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Clippers Face Magic to Begin Three-Game Road Trip

The L.A. Clippers hope to get back on track defensively, starting on the road against the Orlando Magic.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture

The L.A. Clippers and the Orlando Magic are two very different teams with two very different trajectories.

For the Clippers, anything short of a championship will be viewed as a disappointment this season. For the Magic, developing its young core, becoming acclimated to a new system, and establishing an identity are what’s most important.

The Clippers, 18-7 and 3rd in the Western Conference, have been a good team this season; that said, they’ve struggled as of late, and it’s clear that they still have a lot to improve upon. Of their 7 total losses so far, 5 have come in the last 10 games. The Clippers have played slightly better on the road this year (9-3) than they have at home (9-4), but have gone only 5-5 in their last ten games.

The Magic, 11-15 and 11th in the Eastern Conference, haven’t been a great team this year. In terms of wins and losses, they’ve only played favorably (slightly) against sub-.500 teams (8-7). But like the Clippers, they have gone 5-5 in their last 10 games, improving upon their 6-10 start to the season.

The Antagonist

The Orlando Magic have undergone some major changes over the last year.

It began back in February when Tobias Harris, then their highest-paid player, was traded to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings.

It was then announced in May, following a 35-47 season in the less-competitive Eastern Conference, that Scott Skiles would be resigning from his head coaching duties. It was Skiles’ first and only year as the Magic’s head coach. But the Magic, who have had many coaching changes over the last several years, acted swiftly in acquiring Frank Vogel shortly after the Indiana Pacers declined to renew his contract. Only time will tell if the fit is right, but Vogel, a defensive-minded coach with a proven and winning record, appears to be their guy for quite some time.

The biggest move of all, however, came just prior to 2016 free agency. The Magic traded away Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo, and the draft rights to Domantas Sabonis to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Serge Ibaka. It was certainly a questionable move for the Magic.

While it wasn’t exactly clear who amongst Harris, Oladipo, and Nikola Vucevic was the organization’s primary building block entering the 2015-16 season, trading away Harris appeared to at least present a larger role and greater offensive opportunity for Oladipo, an entertaining two-way player and 2013 lottery pick. Ilyasova also provided a viable stretch-4 option quite inexpensively. And while Ibaka provides some much-needed front court depth and versatility for the Magic, the 2016-17 season is a contract year for him; and despite his decline in overall production during his last couple of years with the Thunder, he will have many suitors entering free agency following this season.

With a bevy of cap space heading into free agency, though, the Magic managed to retain Evan Fournier, and sign Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green, and D.J. Augustin; all have been solid contributors thus far.

Defense First

Both the Magic and the Clippers have coaches who emphasize a defensive mentality, but only the Clippers have been formidable in this regard so far this season. Per, the Clippers enter today ranked 3rd in Defensive Rating (101.0) while the Magic rank just middle-of-the-pack at 15th (104.1).

For the Magic, they will have to face a Western Conference contender, and the only team in the NBA who currently ranks top-5 in both Offensive Rating (5th) and Defensive Rating (3rd). The Clippers have a great deal of depth and can score in a variety of ways, collectively averaging 109.8 points per game. With only a few capable, solid isolation defenders in Ibaka, Biyombo, and Aaron Gordon (and sometimes Elfrid Payton) at his disposal, Vogel will need to get creative and focus on two main goals: running the Clippers off of the 3-point line, and avoid fouling. The Clippers rank 8th in the league in 3-point shots made per game (10.2); they also rank 1st in free throw attempts per game (27.4) and 2nd in free throws made per game (20.9).

For the Clippers, they will be facing the second-worst team in the league in terms of Offensive Rating (99.3). And despite the Magic coming off of a road win against the Atlanta Hawks where they scored 131 points, the Clippers should have no problem keeping the Magic at bay; it’s worth noting, however, that they have dropped a couple spots defensively just over the last few games. This is a great opportunity for the Clippers to exercise their defensive communication and to regain some confidence at that end of the floor, especially after giving up 120 points in regulation in their last matchup against the Portland Trailblazers.

Key Matchups

Blake Griffin and Serge Ibaka:

Clippers fans have grown to detest Ibaka over the years for his unnecessary physicality and antics, directed almost entirely at Griffin. But just because it’s hate-worthy doesn’t mean it’s devoid of entertainment.

Ibaka is the second-leading scorer for the Magic with 15.0 points per game, while Griffin leads the Clippers with 21.0 points per game. Griffin clearly has the upper-hand here, especially when factoring-in his 9.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, but the Clippers cannot sleep on Ibaka. Ibaka is a very capable 3-point shooter, isolation defender, and rim protector.

J.J. Redick and Evan Fournier:

Redick and Fournier are very similar players; both are efficient and reliable spot-up shooters who can score in bunches. The differences are few, but significant. Redick is very crafty at operating without the ball in his hands; while pacing all over the half court and weaving through other movement and screens to find some open space, he can release his shot just as quickly as he sets his feet. Fournier will need to work hard to keep up with Redick all game long.

Fournier, has a size advantage on Redick and is a bit more adept at putting the ball down on the floor. Fournier leads all Magic players in scoring with 17.2 points per game, and they rely upon him to score in more ways than just beyond the arc. Redick will, however, need to at least run Fournier off of the 3-point line whenever possible.

Orlando Roots

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers began his coaching career and raised his family in Orlando, Austin Rivers grew up there, and Redick began his NBA career with the Magic. Orlando is a very familiar a comforting place for these three, and it will be a homecoming of-sorts for them. The Rivers family still has a house in Orlando, and it has been team tradition over the years to spend some quality time there. We can only hope that this can all translate to an extra boost in chemistry for a team looking to regain its defensive form and overall communication on the road.

Also be sure to check out what they’re saying over at SB Nation’s Orlando Magic site, Orlando Pinstriped Post