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Preview: Hornets conclude three-game road trip in Orlando against the Magic

Let’s see if LaMelo has any Magic in him tonight, folks...

Charlotte Hornets v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Charlotte Hornets (11-8) at Orlando Magic (4-14)

When: 7:00 PM ET

Where: Amway Center; Orlando, Fla.

How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

Injury report

CHA: PJ Washington; doubtful (left elbow hyperextension).

ORL: Cole Anthony; out (ankle), Michael Carter-Williams; out (ankle), Gary Harris; questionable (hand), E’Twuan Moore; out (knee).

The Hornets are back in Orlando for the second time this season to take on the Magic, losers of three-in-a-row. Charlotte took the first matchup 120-111 on Oct. 27, and Orlando has gone 3-10 since.

Outside of Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner (Wagner, especially) playing good basketball for rookies in the first quarter of the season, Cole Anthony has been the biggest story out of Orlando so far this year. He leads the team in scoring at 19.6 points per game by improving his 3-point percentage from 33.7 to 36.6 on higher volume, and he’s earned more control of the offense by growing as a playmaker. Fortunately for the Hornets, he’ll be missing his third-straight game with a sprained right ankle.

Wagner has forged a bulletproof case for an All-Rookie selection in the early-going. He’s tied for first in minutes played among rookies with Scottie Barnes and he leads all rookies in steals; he’s an excellent spatially-aware defender with positional versatility that’s always active in passing lanes and consistently putting in effort on that end of the floor, plus teams have to respect him as a floor-spacer, cutter and passer offensively. The Magic have a +12.3 point differential with Wagner on the court, good for the 85th percentile per Cleaning The Glass.

Defense has ratcheted up for Charlotte during this 6-1 stretch. After plummeting to the league’s worst defensive rating during their losing streak in early-November, the Hornets have climbed back up to 22nd (109.5) behind a defense that would rank seventh in the league (102.8) over those seven games. As Terry Rozier rounds into form, PJ Washington gets healthy and rotational pieces like Jalen McDaniels, Cody Martin and Nick Richards show improving defense, the Hornets defensive rating should settle in somewhere around 20.

The first Hornets-Magic game this season was closer than it should’ve been — it wasn’t that close at the end, but Charlotte nearly gave the game back to Washington on Monday. The Magic aren’t a very good team, but they don’t roll over and if the Hornets get cute down the stretch like they did against the Wizards, Orlando could take advantage of it.