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Portland Trail Blazers at Orlando Magic Preview

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The Blazers face the Magic in their first road game of the season.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (2-1) vs. Orlando Magic (2-2)

Thursday, October 25 - 4:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: None
Magic injuries: Timofey Mozgov (day-to-day)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Orlando Pinstriped Post

The Portland Trail Blazers look to bounce back after a tough overtime loss to the Washington Wizards as they play on the road for the first time this season against the Orlando Magic. Thursday’s game begins a four game road trip for Portland. Last season the Blazers went 21-20 in road games, making them one of only 10 teams to finish over .500 away from home.

The Magic entered the season with low expectations. At 2-2, they have started surprisingly well. They are coming off a big win against the Celtics in Boston Monday night—a game in which they never trailed. Center Nikola Vucevic has been leading the way for Orlando with 18.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

What to watch for

  • Balanced scoring for Orlando. A different Magic player (Magician?) has led the team in scoring for each of Orlando’s four games. Vucevic has been the most consistent scorer, but Aaron Gordon put in 26 in the Magic’s opening win against the Miami Heat and Evan Fournier scored 31 in a close loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. All five starters scored in double figures against the Celtics, and five different bench players have reached double figures at least once in Orlando’s other three games.
  • Three-point shooting. The Trail Blazers’ plan entering the season was to shoot more threes, and so far they have followed through on that plan. Portland is attempting 36 three pointers per game (up from 28.1 last season). The higher volume hasn’t come at the expense of efficiency as the Blazers are making around the same percentage (36.1 vs. 36.6). Portland’s 13 made three pointers per game puts them tied for seventh in the league in that category. Three point shooting is up across the league. Last season only the Houston Rockets made 13 or more threes per game; this season ten teams averaging doing so. The Magic are one of the few teams that has not increased its volume or efficiency from deep. They averaging slightly fewer makes per game than last year. They aren’t defending the three point line very well either. Their opponents are averaging 13 makes on 36 attempts, putting the Magic in the bottom five of the league in both categories.
  • The rebounding battle. Both Portland and Orlando are top ten teams rebounding this season. The Blazers are leading the league with 56.7 boards per game, while the Magic are ninth with 48.3. Vucevic and Aaron Gordon lead the way for Orlando with 10.3 per game each. Jusuf Nurkic leads the way for Portland with 11.7. The Bosnian Beast has done most of his damage on the offensive boards. His average of six offensive rebounds per game is tied for the best in the league. Winning the battle of the boards would help the Blazers secure a victory.

What they’re saying

Philip Rossman-Reich of Orlando Magic Daily wrote that Jonathan Isaac may be the x-factor for the Magic this season:

The flashes and glimpses of what Isaac can be are apparent everywhere. There were the five steals he picked up in a March game against the Toronto Raptors last year. His blocking prowess during Summer League. And then there was Monday’s game against the Boston Celtics. A career performance — career highs in points (18) and rebounds (12) for his first career triple-double — was highlighted with a clutch shot that will define Isaac’s growth in many ways.

The Magic are looking to give Isaac every opportunity to take that next step. He earned a spot into the starting lineup. And he has held that spot and there is no sense he will let it go. His versatility is too valuable and stands to make the team’s defense better.

Orlando Pinstriped Post’s Mike Cali praised the Magic’s balance, specifically in the Celtic game where four Magic players had double-doubles:

That balance, along with strong defense (and quite a few missed open looks by the Celtics), and a high assist rate for the commonly isolation-happy Magic, helped Orlando upset a team that many believe to be headed to the NBA Finals.

Thanks to the penetration and distribution of the Orlando backcourt, the Magic’s ball movement resulted in 28 assists on 38 baskets made for a 73.7 percent assist rate. While the over-dribbling and shot selection remained an issue at times in the half-court set against the Celtics, it was encouraging to see the Magic sharing the ball and putting an emphasis on getting the ball into the paint to help create an inside-out offense.

John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com wrote about Vucevic’s playmaking:

When head coach Steve Clifford or Orlando Magic players are asked to describe Nikola Vucevic’s recent triple-double exploits or why he is such a key cog in the team’s offense, one key phrase often resonates: Not only is the big man unselfish, but he regularly makes the right play.

“I feel like I’ve always been a pretty good passer, but the way that the game has changed, the bigs are outside a little more and it gives (centers) opportunities to find cutters and give hand-offs,” Vucevic said. “Before, it was more post-ups and there were less opportunities (to pass). Now, with the way we’re playing, it just gives me more opportunities to find cutters. And the more I’ve done it, the more comfortable I am with it.”