Suns-Magic Preview

BY foxsports • March 4, 2016

Coach Scott Skiles hopes a performance that brought back memories of a promising 2015 can spark a run toward the Orlando Magic's first postseason berth in four years.

The Phoenix Suns are just trying to avoid the worst road slide in franchise history.

Coming off a strong defensive showing, Orlando will attempt to move closer to a playoff spot Friday night when it looks to take advantage of another opportune matchup at home.

The Magic (27-33) were playing more like Skiles had envisioned when they ranked sixth in the NBA with 98.4 points allowed per game during a 19-13 start. That all changed once the calender flipped to 2016, as they gave up 107.1 while dropping 20 of the next 27.

Orlando took a step in the right direction Wednesday when it held Chicago to 38.4 percent shooting in a 102-89 home win. It allowed it lowest point total since holding Brooklyn to 77 on Jan. 8 and its lowest field-goal percentage since Denver's 33.3 on Dec. 8.

"We're hoping we can start stringing some games together because that's where we were (early in the season)," Skiles said. "If we had bad moments in a game, it tended to be four or five rather than 24 or 25. It's something we got away from and have to get back to."

The Magic, who haven't reached the playoffs since the 2011-12 season, are 11th in the Eastern Conference and 3 1/2 games behind eighth-place Detroit with 22 left. They'll try to keep closing the gap with only their second back-to-back wins since Dec. 28 and 30.

Nikola Vucevic led the way with 24 points Wednesday, while Victor Oladipo scored 17 and Aaron Gordon contributed 13 points and 15 rebounds. Mario Hezonja had a season-high 21 points while filling in for the injured Evan Fournier, who hopes to return against the Suns.

Vucevic is averaging 22.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in his last 10 games and Gordon has put up 15.6 and 8.6 over his past five. Oladipo has chipped in with 17.1 points in his last eight.

Orlando had scored 111.9 per game over a seven-game stretch before shooting just 40.2 percent against the Bulls. They should get some open looks as they play one more at home before starting a stretch with nine of 11 on the road Monday at Golden State.

The Suns, who are 3-30 since Dec. 20, have allowed 113.6 points per game while matching the 1973-74 team with a franchise-record 17 consecutive road defeats. They let Miami shoot 48.2 percent in Thursday's 108-92 road loss.

Devin Booker was a bright spot with 15 of his season-high 34 points in the fourth quarter.

The Suns rank in the league's top 10 with 14.3 fast-break points per game. They scored 19 on the break en route to their fourth win in five meetings with Orlando, 107-104 in Phoenix on Dec. 9.

"We have to get back on defense," Skiles added. "They come at you fast."

Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe led the way with 21 points apiece for the Suns (15-46) in December, but they've long since been sidelined due to injury. Alex Len added 20 points and 14 rebounds and Mirza Teletovic scored 15 with four 3-pointers.

''We all know that our main guys are out,'' interim coach Earl Watson said. ''That's not even a secret, but we make no excuses.''

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