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Hornets hope to sneak past Magic unscathed

NBA: Orlando Magic at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets (13-9) are at home tonight taking on the Orlando Magic (10-13) for their first of four games against each other this season. The Hornets stumbled their way into two wins against middling talent earlier this week, so a win tonight would make it three straight for the boys in teal.

Unfortunately, the Hornets have to hop on an Ohio-bound plane for tomorrow’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers shortly after this one wraps up.

There’s a chance Hornets head coach Steve Clifford throws in the towel if the Magic are ahead by 10 to 15 points at any point during the second half to save his team’s energy for tomorrow.

Give the Magic credit — they’re pretty good for a team without much of an identity. They’re an odd mix of young and prime players without any clear leader, and rumor has it they’re exploring the trade market for a scorer.

Still, they’re well coached and play hard. They’re fourth in the league in blocks per game and fifth in the league in fouls per game, which is kinda weird considering that they’re also below average at protecting the paint and awfully good at defending 3-pointers.

I’m not sure whom that’s an indictment of. Frank Vogel? Nikola Vucevic? Serge Ibaka?

Bismack Biyombo?

That’s right, Biz is back in Charlotte. He missed last game with a minor injury but as fate would have it, it sounds like he’s returning tonight. This dude’s gonna go for a triple-double with no assists if Vogel gives him the minutes.

Evan Fournier averaged an uncharacteristic 10 points on 29 percent shooting, 2.7 assists and 2.7 turnovers over his last three contests, and I suspect the Hornets will try to make his stat line look like that again tonight. Fournier’s leading the Magic in points per game at 16.7, so without a solid performance, they should struggle.

Each of the Hornets’ wings should be able to guard him effectively in one-on-one situations. The trick will be following him through screens and around picks. I’m looking at you, Nicolas Batum.

Speaking of Batum, he’s not shooting well but he’s been absolutely brilliant otherwise lately. However, he’s the only player the Hornets have — Michael Kidd-Gilchrist aside — who can guard LeBron James individually with some success. Don’t be surprised if Batum finishes tonight with fewer than 30 minutes played.

Yes, the Hornets want this win against a division rival. But getting a win against the top-seeded Cavs tomorrow looks just as good, if not better. I’m eager to see how Clifford handles this.

The Hornets have proven they can hang with the NBA’s elite, but they’ve yet to prove they can beat them consistently. If the Hornets can sneak out with a win against the Magic, they’ll head to Ohio not only somewhat rested, but fully healthy.

And that’s what you want. A stolen victory.

Tip off is at 7 p.m.