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Preview: Suns seek to finish five game road trip on a high note against the Magic

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Finishing a five game road trip 3-2 would be a nice post-Christmas present for fans.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Game: Phoenix Suns @ Orlando Magic

The Time: 5:00 pm (Phoenix time)

The Place: Amway Center

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM/1400 AM (Spanish)


Tonight the Suns meet the Magic for the second time this season to attempt to even the score for the 99-85 loss they suffered back on November 30 in Phoenix. In this game, the Magic will face a much different Suns team than they faced back then.

For those that don’t remember, both Devin Booker and T.J. Warren were out injured and the Suns’ starting lineup was Elie Okobo, Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges, Trevor Ariza and Deandre Ayton. Per 100 possessions, that lineup was a minus-29.3 on points as opposed to a plus-2.3 points for the present starting lineup.

Orlando, like Phoenix, is near the bottom of the NBA in the offensive rankings (27th vs 28th) for the season. Recently though, the Suns have improved slightly in offensive (26th in Dec games) while the Magic have fallen to last place in the rankings.

Although the Suns have had their own shooting woes this season, Orlando has dropped to the bottom of the NBA in Effective Field Goal Percentage (47.6%) and True Shooting percentage (50.8%) this month. While they’ve been shooting a very respectable 35.5% from three, their overall field goal percentage has been a league worst 40.9% in December and their team percentage for free throws is 21st at 74.7%.

Defensively, Orlando has been steadily in the middle of the pack (15th) for the entire season. The Suns have improved lately from 27th for the season to 21st in the December.

Despite their length in the frontcourt, Orlando hasn’t been a great rebounding team this season ranking just ahead of the Suns (25th vs 28th) for the season and behind the Suns for the month of December (Suns 17th/44.0 rpg, Magic 25th/42.6 rpg).


The Magic (14-18)

Probable Starting Lineup: D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Nikola Vucevic

Injury report: None

Starting center Nikola Vucevic leads the Magic in points (20.1) and rebounds (11.8) and will be a real challenge for Deandre Ayton in the paint as will the length of Gordon (6’9”) and Isaac (6’10”) for Bridges (6’7”) and Warren (6’8”). This trio combines with rookie center Mo Bamba (7’0”) off the bench to average 4.5 blocks per game. Aaron Gordon give the Magic 15.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg and has developed a nice three point shot this season (38.2%).

Like the Suns, Orlando’s weakness is at point guard. D.J. Augustin is a solid 10 year NBA vet but better suited to a backup role than starting. He dishes out 4.8 assists per game and does most of his damage from behind the three point line (42.9%). His backcourt partner, Evan Fournier, is a bit more versatile in his scoring and adds 15.5 ppg.

Team Leaders

Points: Nikola Vucevic (20.1)

Rebounds: Nikola Vucevic (11.8)

Assists: D.J. Augustin (4.8)


The Suns (8-26)

Probable Starting Lineup: De’Anthony Melton, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, T.J. Warren Jr, Deandre Ayton

Injury report: None.

Hopefully, T.J. Warren’s performance on Sunday against the Nets (4 pts/2-11 FG/0-4 3PT) was due to the fatigue of playing 53 minutes against Washington the night before. The Suns will need his 18.3 ppg tonight if the Suns want a chance at a win. Devin Booker (25 pts, 9 assists) and Deandre Ayton (26 pts, 18 rebs) didn’t seem quite as affected in that game so I’m expecting them to give more of the same tonight.

What we hopefully won’t see more of is the terrible three point shooting that was on display in Brooklyn (17.6%/3-17). Orlando is one of the worst three point defensive teams in the NBA (26th) so the Suns need to take advantage of that if they can.

Team Leaders

Points: Devin Booker (24.8)

Rebounds: Deandre Ayton (10.9)

Assists: Devin Booker (7.0)


Summary

Fatigue shouldn’t be a factor tonight for either team as they’ve both had two days off. Both teams have also been on losing streaks - 2 for the Suns, 3 for the Magic - so both are hungry for another win. If Warren bounces back tonight and has a good game, I think that the Suns will wrap up their road trip with another win.

My prediction is that the Suns win 103-98.