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Game Preview: Suns look to find their groove in Orlando against the Magic

The Suns have now lost 3 of their last 5 games. With key players still out, can Deandre Ayton and company right the ship against the Magic?

NBA: Orlando Magic at Phoenix Suns
Suns played the Magic less than a month ago, a 132-105 smackdown at the Footprint Center. Deandre Ayton scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. But the Suns will need more from Ayton to get past the Magic this time around.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns (51-13) vs Orlando Magic (16-49)

When: 5:00 PM AZ time

Where: Amway Center

Watch: Bally Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM

DraftKings betting line: The Phoenix Suns are 6.5 point favorites vs. the Magic, with an over/under at 222.5


Less than four weeks ago, the Suns hosted the Orlando Magic and promptly defeated them by 27 for their fifth win in a row. Orlando briefly led for the first three minutes of the game before falling behind and never catching up, as the Suns’ All-Star backcourt of Devin Booker and Chris Paul tore apart Orlando’s defense.

Booker led the team with 26 points, and while Paul struggled from the field and finished with only 10 points, he had 15 of the team’s season-high 40 assists, the first time a Suns team had reached 40 assists in a non-overtime game since 2009. The Suns had nine players score 10+ points and the team shot 52.4% from the field in one of the most complete performances by the Suns all season.

Unfortunately, a lot has changed for the Suns since their last matchup with the Magic back on February 12. With such a depleted lineup, the Suns will need all hands on deck and firing to get the season sweep.


Probable Starters

Suns

  • PG - Cam Payne
  • SG - Landry Shamet
  • SF - Mikal Bridges
  • PF - Jae Crowder
  • C - Deandre Ayton

Magic

  • PG - Cole Anthony
  • SG - R.J. Hampton
  • SF - Franz Wagner
  • PF - Wendell Carter Jr.
  • C - Mo Bamba

Suns Report

The Suns will remain shorthanded, as Cam Johnson (right quad contusion) and Booker (COVID-19 health and safety protocols) continue their stay on the injury report along with Chris Paul (wrist), Frank Kaminsky (knee) and Dario Saric (knee).

Phoenix is coming off a hard-fought loss in Milwaukee on Sunday, 132-122. In the second rematch of last year’s NBA Finals, the teams exchanged the lead 19 times as they both played with something to prove. But the lack of star power caught up to Phoenix late in the game, as they simply could not execute on offense. Suns went 0-4 from the field with two turnovers and scored merely 1 point in the final 3 minutes of Sunday’s game.

Deandre Ayton carried the load offensively, posting a season-high 30 points on 14-19 from the field, including 1-1 from three. With the team still missing some of their key scorers, Ayton will need to be aggressive again to break down and collapse the Orlando defense. Because while Orlando ranks sixth in points allowed in the paint, they also rank 28th in opponent 3PT%.

A strong inside-outside approach was key to the Suns’ victory over the Magic last time. In that game, Phoenix outscored Orlando 68-36 in points in the paint and also shot 15/34 from beyond the arc.

Magic Report

The Magic expect the return of their starting power forward, Wendell Carter Jr., who has missed the last two games with a non-COVID illness. The 22-year-old big man was removed from the Magic’s injury report on Monday and should move right back into the starting lineup, with Chuma Okeke returning to the bench. Carter Jr. has continued his strong development in Orlando this season, posting career-highs in points (14.3), rebounds (10.4), and three-pointers (1.1 per game on 32.3%).

The Magic’s rookie shooting guard Jalen Suggs missed practice on Monday, as he continues to nurse a twisted right ankle he suffered in their win over the Toronto Raptors on Mar. 4. The fifth overall draft pick from Gonzaga missed Saturday’s game in Memphis, a 124-96 loss to the Grizzlies. Suggs remains questionable for the matchup against Phoenix.

Despite a 3-2 record since the All-Star break, the Magic sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, floundering in player-development hell with the Detroit Pistons.

One of the few bright spots on the season has been the play of the Magic’s second-year point guard, Cole Anthony. The former Tar Heel leads the team in scoring and assists with 17.4 points and 5.7 assists per game, while also grabbing 5.7 rebounds a game, the third-most on the team.

Rookie forward Franz Wagner has also been a pleasant surprise for the Magic this season, as the 6’10” forward from the University of Michigan has transitioned to the NBA with ease. The eighth overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft is averaging 15.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3 assists per game, on 46.9% from the field and 37.2% from downtown.

But possibly the most impressive stat: Wagner’s averaging merely 1.6 turnovers on 31.8 minutes a game and he’s played all 65 games this season. Only 32 players in the league average less than 2 turnovers while playing more than 30 minutes a game, and only two of them are also rookies: Toronto’s Scottie Barnes and New Orleans’ Herbert Jones.


My Prediction

Phoenix should come away with the win semi-comfortably. Orlando will keep it tight early, may even build a lead if Carter Jr. is fully fit and the Magic can control Ayton inside. But I expect the Suns' offense to wear down the Magic and pull away at some point in the second half.


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