The Portland Trail Blazers take on the Orlando Magic at 4:00 PM, Pacific time today. Since Martin Luther King Jr. Day is one of the biggest events on the NBA calendar, and since both the Blazers and Magic are having relatively anonymous seasons, here are three particular things to watch for as you evaluate this matchup, particularly if you’re playing the odds.
First, don’t let the record fool you! The Magic enter Monday with the NBA’s worst record, and they’ve been futile at home (2-15). But, they’ve shown the potential to be a competitive group as of late, even in losses. Aaron Goldstone of Orlando Pinstriped Post made note of this yesterday. They’re coming off of, statistically, their best defensive week since November, and before Saturday, their losses were by the margins as follows: 6, 2, 5, 10, and 4. The late-game chops are invaluable to a young team seeking to find their way, and though they’ve yet to close out games effectively, their never-say-die attitude presents a threat to a similarly talented-but-inconsistent Blazers group. With proven scorers like Cole Anthony (19.2 points per game), Franz Wagner (15.5) and Terrence Ross (12.5), there are capable big-shot makers on board.
Second, the cavalry is coming! The Magic have received a morale boost, with injured players returning to the team’s bench and facilities. Outside of Jalen Suggs, who returned last Friday vs. Dallas, many of them are still a ways out.
Orlando isn’t alone, though. For the Blazers, there’s the possibility that both Norman Powell and CJ McCollum make their returns on Monday. If so, how will Head Coach Chauncey Billups incorporate them into the rotation? Remember, both Ben McLemore and Nassir Little are riding four-game streaks where they’ve scored in double figures, and Anfernee Simons is averaging 28.3 points per game and 8.2 assists on 51-46-91 percentage splits (!) over his last five games. Each of those three could see their minutes cut into, potentially threatening their rhythm.
Finally, prepare for a three-point shootout in January. Distance shooting makes up an aggressive portion of both offenses’ shot diets. Portland (38.0 attempts per game) ranks sixth; Orlando (36.4) is tied for tenth. The key difference? Portland ranks tenth in accuracy (35.7 percent), whilst Orlando sits at No. 27 (32.4 percent). Can the Blazers force the Magic into difficult shots while also hitting their own? On the year, they own an impressive 15-8 record when they are either equal to, or hit more three-pointers than their opponent. Best guess: the forecast calls for some rain in Florida to start the week.