Two teams with plenty of new faces heading in different directions will square off on Tuesday when the San Antonio Spurs and Orlando Magic meet at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.
The surging Spurs have won nine straight games, including three straight victories on the road last week, and have picked right up where they left off in from the 2015-16 regular season despite sporting a roster with seven new players.
Meanwhile, the Magic — with a new coach and a bevy of new different players in different roles — have lost four consecutive outings.
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If the game seems like a foregone conclusion even before its tipoff, remember this: San Antonio has been underwhelming at home, losing all three of its games in the friendly confines of the AT&T Center is a ragged nine-day stretch in the first week of November.
Since a 101-99 loss to Houston on Nov. 9, the Spurs have jelled. Now they have to find a way to reclaim their home mojo. Having Orlando in town might just be the remedy to what's been ailing San Antonio.
“The best thing about this early part of the season is the fact that a lot of the new guys have caught on so quickly,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
“(Second-year players) Kyle Anderson and Jon Simmons haven't played much before. David Lee, Davis Bertans and Dewayne Dedmon and Pau (Gasol) just all got here, so they've blended in very well pretty quickly. It's been surprising.”
San Antonio (13-3) is getting spectacular contributions from star forward Kawhi Leonard, who leads the team in scoring at 24.8 points per game and is the team's scoring leader in 13 of its 16 games.
Forward LaMarcus Aldridge (18.4 points and 6.7 rebounds a game) is also on a nice roll after a bit of a ragged start to the season. Aldridge led the Spurs with 24 points and seven rebounds in their latest outing, a 112-100 victory at Washington.
“We're pretty confident,” Aldridge said. “Guys are bringing it every night. We understand what we need to do to be successful and to keep winning — you have to compete harder. Our guys are locked in.”
Orlando (6-11) has lost three in a row at home during its four-game skid, and is 2-5 over its past seven outings. The Magic have scored more than 95 points just once in that stretch and have bene held to under 90 points in four of those seven games.
They head to the Alamo City off a 104-96 loss to Milwaukee on Sunday. Guard Evan Fournier led the Magic against Milwaukee with a game-high 27 points (just two of those in the fourth quarter), seven assists and six rebounds, while forward Serge Ibaka netted 19 points.
After trailing for most of the game, Orlando cut the deficit to 88-86 after center Nikola Vucevic hit a 3-pointer with 6:38 left in the fourth quarter. However, that was as close as the Magic would get as Milwaukee answered with a 13-4 run and sealed the victory. Orlando committed only eight turnovers in that loss, but shot just 41.3 percent from the floor.
The Magic's lineup changes included three new starters on Sunday as coach Frank Vogel continues to look for a winning formula.
“We've just got to keep looking for ways to get better,” Vogel said. “I wanted to explore some combinations with the same nine guys in the rotation. It was us trying to get a different feel. There were some good things about the (lineup) change, and some that weren't so good.”
Fournier paces the Magic at 17.6 points per game and has led (or tied) the team in scoring eight times and in assists four times this season. He's scored in double figures 16 times and had 20-plus points seven times, including a season-high 29 points on Nov. 3 vs. Sacramento.
The Spurs were 2-0 against Orlando last season, winning 107-92 in Feb. 21 in San Antonio and 98-96 nine nights later in Orlando. San Antonio has 10 straight wins against the Magic, dating to a 123-101 loss in Orlando on Dec, 23, 2010, and have won 40 of the 55 all-time games in the series.
The game in San Antonio is the first of five straight road contests for the Magic, an eight-day trip in which Orlando will also play in Memphis, Philadelphia, Detroit and Washington, D.C.