The defending Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers are in Orlando tonight. They will be missing one critical piece however as Lebron James will sit out this game.
The Orlando Magic are hosting the final preseason game of the year. Up to this point, the Magic have shown some improvements as a unit. The feel of the locker room is different from past seasons. The importance of continuity in coaching cannot be overstated for the Orlando Magic. Having a prior relationship to build on has placed Orlando further along than they were at this point last season. Trust is already established and everyone (for the most part) knows how to push each other to greatness. Tonight’s game against the Cavaliers will be a little less daunting with Lebron James (ankle) out of the lineup. As the Magic wrap up the preseason here are a few things to watch for.
Evan Fournier has missed the last two Magic games with a sore ankle. Fournier was able to practice on Thursday and will give it a go in the final preseason game for Orlando. Having Fournier back in the mix should help spread the floor. His ability to shoot and penetrate should open things up even more for the blossoming Aaron Gordon. Fournier will need to contribute consistently if the Magic want to make the leap into the playoffs. Getting him back in the lineup one more time before the season opener will help Coach Vogel figure out his rotations.
Regular Season Rotation
As the preseason has rolled on Coach Vogel has steadily increased to minutes for the regular rotation players. With only one more tune-up before the games start to count Vogel will get guys comfortable with regular season minutes. The players that will be assigned to the G-League or not make the cut most likely won’t get on the court.
Terrence Ross is not expected to play for the Magic(illness). It is the assumption by many that Ross and Fournier will handle the wing position for the Orlando starting lineup. Jonathon Simmons has had a great preseason and has been consistent with his desire to start for the Orlando Magic. With Ross out, we will get to see what a Payton, Fournier, Simmons, Gordon, Vucevic lineup looks together. Keep an eye on the minutes distribution tonight. Will Arron Afflalo get more minutes than Mario Hezonja? Will Marreese Speights or Khem Birch see more playing time?
Coach Frank Vogel experimented with a super small ball lineup in Orlando’s last game. The lineup featured Aaron Gordon(C), Jonathan Isaac(PF), Jonathon Simmons(SF), Wesley Iwundu(SG), and Elfrid Payton(PG). This is the lineup that got the Magic back into the game against the Spurs. Every member of this lineup is long, athletic and defensive minded. When on the court together it will be tough for opponents to get any offense going. The Cleveland Cavaliers have committed to a small ball starting lineup, with Kevin Love at Center and Jae Crowder at Power Forward. The Magic’s normal starting 5 is more traditional with Nikola Vucevic at Center. If needed Orlando might have to use variations of the small lineup with Gordon or Isaac playing Center. Look for Orlando to run a small lineup tonight to match Cleveland.