What: Charlotte Hornets at Orlando Magic
Where: Amway Center, Orlando, FL
When: 7:00 p.m. EST
How to watch: Fox Sports South, NBA League Pass
It’s pretty clear.
The Hornets need to win a majority of their remaining 12 games if they want a shot at the playoffs.
Currently sitting three and half games out of the eighth playoff spot, the Hornets have little margin for error the rest of the way, if any.
Fortunately, tonight’s matchup has been a favorable one this season. In fact, the Hornets have a chance to sweep the Magic in the four-game season series, winning the previous three by an average margin of 26.7 points. The last meeting was the ugliest; a 121-81 win at home on March 10.
Outside of the Magic being an easy opponent this season, they are on track to miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.
Although a very young roster, there was initial hope at cracking the top eight after several free agents were signed, Serge Ibaka was traded for and Frank Vogel was brought in as the new head coach.
Since the new year though, the Magic have gone 11-25 and have begun to give more minutes to the younger players, knowing the playoffs are out of the picture. If there has been any positive this season, it’s been the play of Evan Fournier who has averaged a career-high 16.9 points to lead the Magic.
Also, Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon have played well as of late, in large part due to their increased freedom with the lost season. Payton has recorded three triple-doubles in just the past two weeks, and is averaging 12.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 8.3 assists over the past 10 games. However, if there’s any consolation, Payton has really struggled against the Hornets in the three prior games, averaging just 6.7 points on 32.3 percent shooting.
As for Gordon, he’s averaged 15.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in the month of March, which are both above his regular season averages. As expected, he’s fit right into the starting power forward position with Ibaka gone.
On the Hornets’ side, a win over the Magic would give the team its first three-game winning streak since a four day stretch between January 18-21 where they beat the Portland Trail Blazers, Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets.
On the injury front, the Magic look to be fully healthy, although, Nikola Vucevic has dealt with a nagging achilles injury for the greater part of the post-All-Star schedule.
It’s a bit worse for the Hornets, who could possibly be without as many as four players tonight. Both Miles Plumlee and Ramon Sessions are still not ready to return from their prolonged injuries, but barring any setbacks, are expected to make a return before the regular season is over.
Also out is Johnny O’Bryant III with an ankle injury, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is listed as probable after getting an MRI on Tuesday. Luckily, the results came back negative on the right ankle sprain suffered in Monday’s win over the Atlanta Hawks. Undoubtedly, Kidd-Gilchrist has shown to be one of the team’s most important players in recent games with his relentless effort and energy.
Along with Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams have made impactful contributions during the team’s recent success, which is always a bonus to Kemba Walker’s star performances.
While many may be down on Walker’s recent shooting numbers, which have dipped to 40.6 percent in March, it’s been because of his increase in 3-point attempts. During the month, he’s averaged 9.5 3-point attempts per game, two more than his season average. Even with lower shooting percentages and less free throw attempts this month, Walker is averaging more points in March (22.1) than in February (20.8).
Walker, like the rest of his teammates, has shot very well against the Magic this season at 63.2 percent. Also, Nicolas Batum, who has seen improvements in his recent play, has had a fair share of success against the Orlando club this season, as he’s their toughest matchup of any Hornet.
There’s no other way around it, tonight is a must-win if the Hornets wish to stay alive in the playoff hunt.
Keep an eye out for Milwaukee’s back-to-back game, as the Bucks face the Kings on the road, while the two current teams ahead of the Hornets, the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls, face off against one another.
If there has ever been a time for the team’s best stretch, now would be the most opportune time.