When: 7:00 pm EST
Where: Amway Center; Orlando, Florida
How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
The Hornets travel to Orlando in the midst of a four-game losing steak to take on the Magic tonight in what feels like another early “must win” game. At 7-9 the Magic are one of the fringe playoff teams the Hornets will likely be jostling with throughout the year for a bottom-end playoff spot, assuming Charlotte can right the ship and start reeling off some much-needed wins.
Orlando Magic overview
The Magic have been a streaky team this year. After starting the season 4-0 they split their next two games to go to 6-2. After starting off hot, the Magic have since dropped seven of their last eight games, including an overtime loss to the Pacers on Friday night. Orlando has suffered some terrible losses during their recent skid, including a 42-point drubbing in Houston, a 22-point loss in Milwaukee, and a 27-point smack down at Boston.
Orlando is led by center Nikola Vucevic who averages 23.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game. Vucevic has suddenly blossomed in his 10th season as a 3-point shooter. Despite being a 34% career shooter from deep, Nikola is somehow hitting over 42% of his 3-point shots on a career-high 6.4 attempts per game.
Shooting guard/small forward Evan Fournier recently missed nine straight games due to injury but is back on the floor and remains capable of dropping 20 points any given night. Forward Aaron Gordon is one of those “good not great” players who averages about 15 points, seven rebounds, and four assists per game. Rookie Cole Anthony from UNC, the No. 15 pick in the 2020 draft, is now the starting point guard after Markelle Fultz tore his ACL in early January. Anthony has been a capable starter through he’s struggling with his shot, hitting just 34% from the field and 28% from 3.
Former Hornet Dwayne “Cookin’ MCs Like a Pound Of” Bacon is getting 25 minutes per game off the bench, but he’s only averaging 9.3 points while shooting just 29% from the 3-point line. Terrence Ross is Orlando’s primary scorer off the bench at nearly 16 points per game and can get streaky hot at any given moment.
How the Hornets can win
With 6-foot-11 Nikola Vucevic being the focal point of Orlando’s offense, it’s timely for the Hornets to have Cody Zeller back on the floor. Both he and Bismack Biyombo are going to need to be physical with Vucevic and have at least some success knocking him off his spot in the post. The Hornets defensive rotations are going to have to be tight as well to keep Vucevic from sniping uncontested 3s. He’s currently the fourth-best 3-point shooter among centers (min 3.0 attempts per game) so he needs tight coverage everywhere on the court.
The Hornets defensive length on the perimeter can match the size of both Fournier and Ross on the wings. If the combination of PJ Washington and Miles Bridges can contain Aaron Gordon, the defense can propel Charlotte to a victory.
On offense, the matchup the Hornets should look to exploit is rookie point guard Cole Anthony. I like the prospect of either Terry Rozier or Devonte’ Graham going aggressively at the 6-foot-2 rookie. LaMelo Ball’s size at 6-foot-6 will be difficult for Anthony to account for when the Hornets can get that matchup. Look for the Hornets guards to have big games in what could be an important early road victory to get Charlotte back in the playoff hunt.
What do you predict from tonight’s game?
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Easy Hornets victory
Close Hornets victory
Close Magic victory
Easy Magic victory