The Orlando Magic — with zero NBA titles in franchise history — have been stuck in the long shadow cast by their state mates, the three-time champion Miami Heat.
But when it comes to their head-to-head matchups, the Magic have actually held up well against the Heat lately.
Orlando, which plays host to Miami on Friday night, won the series 3-1 against the Heat last season. This will be their first matchup of the season, and Miami hasn’t taken its yearly series with Orlando since 2015-2016. Since then, Orlando is 8-4 against mighty Miami.
On Friday, however, the Magic are likely to be without four players: 6-10 power forward Jonathan Isaac (knee); 6-9 forwards Aaron Gordon (foot) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee); and 6-6 guard Michael Carter-Williams (shoulder).
Isaac and Gordon are starters who combine to average 25.2 points per game. Aminu and Carter-Williams are reserves who average a combined 9.5 points.
Isaac hyperextended his left knee during Orlando’s 122-101 win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday.
“I had never hurt my knee before,” Isaac said. “When it happened, I started thinking the worst.”
It looks like Isaac was able to avoid that doomsday scenario, but published reports indicate he will miss more than two months, which figures to hurt an Orlando team that is just 4-8 in its past 12 games.
Isaac, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, leads Orlando with 2.4 blocks per game. His length and athleticism are vital to the Magic.
Further complicating things for Orlando is that Gordon (7.1) and Isaac (6.9) are two of the Magic’s top three rebounders. Add the injury to Aminu (4.8), and Orlando could be without three of its top six rebounders on Friday.
It will be interesting to see if Miami can take advantage of Orlando’s injuries, especially since the Heat will be playing on virtually no rest.
The Heat defeated the visiting Toronto Raptors 84-76 on Thursday night, improving their home record to an NBA-best 16-1.
On the road, however, Miami is just 9-8, which could make Friday’s game more competitive since Orlando is 10-7 at home.
Miami, powered by center Bam Adebayo and wing Jimmy Butler, is well-suited to punish Orlando’s injury-damaged frontcourt as the Heat leads the NBA with a 52.9 rebounding percentage.
Orlando will counter with a pair of 7-footers: starter Nikola Vucevic (a first-time All-Star last season) and backup Mo Bamba (the sixth overall pick in the 2018 draft).
Vucevic leads Orlando in rebounding (10.7) and is second in scoring (18.2). Bamba only averages 15.5 minutes, but that could increase with Isaac out. Pro-rated over 36 minutes, Bamba leads Orlando in blocked-shot average (3.1) and is second in rebounds (11.9).
The Magic-Heat game’s most interesting backcourt matchup will pit Orlando’s 6-7, 205-pound Evan Fournier (team-high 19.4 scoring average) against the 6-7, 230-pound Butler, who leads Miami in scoring, assists and steals.
Orlando’s other guards — primarily D.J. Augustin and Markelle Fultz — will have a major challenge against Miami’s Goran Dragic, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro.
“It’s all about defense,” Dragic said after his Heat team held Toronto to 6-of-42 shooting on 3-pointers on Thursday night. “We feel we play great team defense.”
–Field Level Media