Where: Amway Arena, Orlando, Florida
When: 3:00 PM PT
How to Watch/Listen: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Landry Shamet – Rodney McGruder – Kawhi Leonard – Moe Harkless – Ivica Zubac
Magic: Markelle Fultz – Evan Fournier – Aaron Gordon – Khem Birch – Nikola Vucevic
Clippers: Paul George Out (Hamstring), Patrick Beverley Questionable (Groin), Patrick Patterson Questionable (Ankle)
Magic: DJ Augustin Out (Knee), Jonathan Isaac Out (Knee), Al-Farouq Aminu Out (Knee)
The Big Picture
The Clippers, as they have all year, bounced back after a tough loss, making up for their grim defeat to the Hawks by defeating a tough Mavericks team on the road. However, the Clippers have continuously slipped throughout the season against “lesser” opponents, and need to be wary of doing the same this afternoon with a showdown against the Lakers looming. With Paul George still out, and Pat Beverley likely out as well, the Clippers will need to put up a strong performance to beat a solid Magic team on the road. These wins are just as important than those against the top-tier teams, as wins all count the same in the standings at the end of the season, and the Clippers are still in the midst of a tight race for seeding in the Western Conference.
The Magic inhabit their own tier in the Eastern Conference – they are clearly better than the teams competing for the 8th spot in the playoffs, but well below the powerful top of the conference. Essentially, they are as middling as can be, with a potent defense and an offense that ranges from good to underwhelming on most nights. The Magic do have talent, and are likely to make the playoffs barring injury or a team collapse, but just don’t have the firepower to be much more than that.
Slowing Markelle: One of the best stories in the NBA this season has been the bounce back play of former #1 overall pick Markelle Fultz. While Fultz hasn’t displayed the shooting ability that made him such a renowned college prospect, his confidence has returned, and his defensive capabilities combined with his finishing ability have made him a real positive impact player this season. The Clippers did an excellent job defending Fultz last game, forcing him to 5-17 shooting and keeping him out of transition, where he’s deadliest. If they can limit him on the break again this afternoon, they will take away one of the Magic’s few ways of getting easy buckets, and will have a much greater likelihood of victory.
Matching Up: The Magic are a big team, and the Clippers are missing two of their better rebounders in Pat Beverley and Paul George, so one area the Clippers will need to focus on is crashing the boards. The Magic are not a great offensive team, but any NBA team can put up points if given multiple opportunities in the same possession, and the Magic are no different. Doc Rivers might go big to start, with Patrick Patterson, or he could try playing Landry Shamet at point guard with Rodney McGruder at shooting guard to add a bit more size to the perimeter as well. Either way, it will need to be a team effort to secure the glass and prevent second-chance points.
Kawhi Leonard 30 Point Streak: Kawhi Leonard has scored 30 or more points in seven straight games, the longest such stretch of his career, and the longest stretch in Clippers’ history going back to World B. Free 40 years ago. That puts into perspective what Kawhi is doing in January, and how special his run is right now. He dropped 32, 5, and 5 on 60% shooting against the Magic in the 4th game of this stretch, and should be able to manage a similar performance in this one – while Aaron Gordon is a good defender, the Magic have nobody who can really stop Kawhi. To be fair, the way Kawhi is playing right now, nobody is really stopping him anyway.
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