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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Orlando Magic Preview

The Blazers have their sights set on snapping a three-game losing streak and evening the season series against the youthful Magic.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Portland Trail Blazers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (29-34) vs. Orlando Magic (27-37)

The Portland Trail Blazers will look to rebound in the win column today when they take on the Orlando Magic on the road in the second contest of a six-game road trip.

This marks the second matchup between both teams this season. The Magic control the upper hand in the season series, after defeating the Blazers 109-106 on Jan. 10 at the Moda Center.

Portland continues to be the malefactor of their own stagnation, dropping to No. 13 in the Western Conference standings, albeit only 1.5 games out of ninth place. Meanwhile, Orlando sports a 27-37 record with a 3.5 game gulf fixed between the Magic — the No. 13 seed — and the final play-in spot in the Eastern Conference.

Heading into today’s game, the Blazers are 12-19 on the road and 3-7 in their last 10 games, two dispiriting metrics for the team jockeying for play-in positioning. The Magic counter with a modest 15-16 record in Orlando, and a 5-5 record in their last 10 games.

Their first duel saw Orlando share the wealth, disrupting Portland’s plan of attack with size, midrange execution and stellar play from their big men. Will this time around be different?

Blazers vs. Magic — Sunday, March 5 — 3:00 p.m. PT

How to Watch: Root Sports Plus, Bally Sports Florida, NBA League Pass

Blazers Injuries: Anfernee Simons (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Justise Winslow (out), Ryan Arcidiacono (out), Ibou Badji (out)

Magic Injuries: Franz Wagner (game-time decision), Gary Harris (game-time decision), Jonathan Isaac (out for season)

SBN Affiliate: Orlando Pinstriped Post

The Matchup

  • Be Ready For Everything. Yes, this doesn’t isolate one particular area of strength. Why? Because last time both teams met, Orlando did a bevy of things well. Markelle Fultz found success driving in the lane and finishing at the rim. He and Cole Anthony got well acquainted with Wendell Carter Jr. in the pick-and-roll, who finished easy dunks and layups inside as the recipient of on-the-money passes. His easy looks at the basket gave him confidence to start hitting shots outside. It led to a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double on 3-4 shooting from outside. Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero got busy on the wings, lulling their defenders to sleep and finishing anywhere inside the arc. The Magic were able to play well in transition and in the half court, and gave head coach Chauncey Billups a lot to adjust to on the fly. All this to say, Portland has to be on their toes, vigilantly, against a young Magic team that can burn any opponent with a variety of weapons in their trick bag.
  • Go With Size Through and Through. It figures to fare well with coach Billups if he goes bigger out the gates. Trendon Watford has been playing very well for the ball club in ways that don’t show up on the stat sheet. He is versatile in putting the ball on the floor, finding his own shots, making the right reads and executing tough passes to the weak side. When watching their first game against the Magic, it was easy to notice how Wagner and Banchero, specifically, were able to rise up from 15, 17, 19 feet out and so on, without being bothered at the apex of their release. Both are 6-foot-9 or above. Putting Watford into lineups next to Jerami Grant may compromise some shooting, especially with Drew Eubanks continuing to fill in for the injured Nurkic. But on defense, Watford is a disciplined, high IQ player that can make life a bit tougher for their two stars. Keeping him at the wing throughout the game, along with the lengthy Cam Reddish and defensive stalwart Matisse Thybulle, will bring needed length and size to disrupt Orlando’s stars.
  • Run a Dame-Grant Screen-and-Roll. No Nurk and no Simons spells a void on offense. Damian Lillard has been sensational with individual scoring outbursts, yet it has not translated to consistent wins. A savvy chess move would be to constantly attack the Magic point guard on the mid block, and give them full isolation. Running the screen-and-roll with Grant and Lillard will force Fultz, Anthony and Suggs to switch onto the bigger Grant, who has shown a competent enough level of skill in the post to go to work. The Denver Nuggets are exceptional at this strategy when featuring Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green on an island 15-feet out. This adds another element to their offensive repertoire like a boxer that switches stances and gives his opponent different looks to keep them off balance. Part of what made coach Billups and his troops so effective through their first 20 games of the season was their ability to shake things up and innovate on both ends. Giving Grant — and Reddish when he spells for Grant — license to drive the bus will force Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley to either make a substitution, double, or switch. All three will feed into Billups’ hand, who can then counter with whatever Orlando gives him. Orlando is so young and versatile that running a traditional offense will come to nought as they have a combination of foot speed, youth and length. Therefore it is incumbent on the Blazers to use experience to their advantage and play a thinking man’s game. This is a great way to start.

What Others are Saying:

  • Unfortunately for Jonathan Isaac and basketball enthusiasts alike, the promising combo forward sustained yet another injury that will cost him the remainder of the 2023 NBA season, as touched on by in a statement from the team.

ORLANDO – Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac underwent surgery on Friday morning to repair a torn left adductor muscle and will miss the remainder of the 2022-23 regular season. An MRI conducted Wednesday revealed the injury, after he felt discomfort following Tuesday’s practice in Milwaukee.

“Our thoughts are with Jonathan, whose fortitude in dealing with adversity is unique,’ said Orlando Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman. ‘Jonathan has worked extremely hard to return to the court this season and has demonstrated his impact on our team. We will be by his side as he focuses on the work ahead.”

  • Cam Reddish has shone for the Blazers despite their losing ways, and his elevated level of play in his new environment could be a catalyst for change beginning with today’s matchup against the Magic, as accentuated by Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian:

In eight games with the Blazers, Reddish is averaging 14.1 points per game while shooting a career-best 47.7% from the field. He’s also shooting 37.3% on threes, well above his career average of 32.7%,” Fentress highlighted.

Reddish never clicked like this with the Hawks (he shot 38.5% in three seasons) or the Knicks (he fell out of the rotation in early December), leading to both franchises trading him away. But now he’s with the Blazers, who hope the former Duke star develops into an impact player.