Portland Trail Blazers (23-33) at Orlando Magic (21-37)
Feb. 23, 2017, 4:00 PST
Watch: CSNNW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Al-Farouq Aminu (out), Evan Turner (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Magic injuries: Jodie Meeks (out), C.J. Watson (doubtful), CJ Wilcox (doubtful)
SBN Affiliate: Orlando Pinstriped Post
The Portland Trail Blazers kick off the home stretch of the season against the Orlando Magic tonight after last week’s blowout loss to the Utah Jazz ushered in the All-Star break and put them a full 10 games under .500.
While the Magic have disappointed, going 21-37 so far on the season, they handed the Blazers one of their most embarrassing losses of the year last month, jumping out to an 18-1 lead en route to a 115-109 win that saw Portland give little of note on either side of the ball.
Most notably for Orlando in that game, offensively gifted center Nikola Vucevic lit Portland’s interior defense up to the tune of 30 points and 10 rebounds on 13-of-18 shooting from the floor. The Blazers will be counting on bruising new center Jusuf Nurkic to slow Vucevic down in the paint in the battle of European big men. Nurkic has only played one game as a Blazer thus far, and showed solid post defense in his limited minutes, though he didn’t seem to jump at the opportunity to close out on mid-range jump shots - something that Vucevic is adept at.
Orlando has a new face of their own, with Serge Ibaka being freed from the Magic’s glut of big men and traded to Toronto for athletic wing Terrence Ross and a draft pick. Ibaka stung Portland for 13 points and 10 rebounds in their last outing, but Orlando won’t necessarily suffer at the power forward spot with his departure. The Magic had been playing talented youngster Aaron Gordon out of position at small forward for most of the year and have slid him back to his natural four slot, while tapping another three/four hybrid - Jeff Green - to play small forward. Gordon is quick, strong, and athletic - and is averaging a career-high 11 points per game in 27 minutes, numbers that will surely increase with Ibaka’s departure.
Orlando only played one post-trade game before the All Star break and newly acquired Terrence Ross didn’t dress, so it’s likely that he will get the nod over Green for the rest of the season. Ross is an explosive dunker and, while very streaky from beyond the arc, shoots nearly 38 percent from the 3-point line.
In the backcourt, Orlando features two youngsters with different futures ahead of them. Evan Fournier has quietly emerged as a legitimate scoring threat over the last two years, averaging nearly 17 points per game this season. Point guard Elfrid Payton has struggled with his outside shooting and play-making to the point where he has lost his starting job to veteran C.J. Watson, a guard who at this point in his career does little well, but will not hurt his team in any drastic way.
For Portland, the key will be to shut down Vucevic and Fournier. Orlando has little else in terms of raw scoring talent on their squad. The Magic have been struggling for some time, winning only six of their last 25 games. While Meyers Leonard may start this game, most Blazer fans will be watching Nurkic to see how he matches up against a legit scoring center.