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PREVIEW: Weary Orlando Magic head to play revitalized Sacramento Kings

February 9, 2021; Sacramento, California, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Marvin Bagley III (35) shoots the basketball against Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) during the third quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
February 9, 2021; Sacramento, California, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Marvin Bagley III (35) shoots the basketball against Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) during the third quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The resurgent Sacramento Kings get an opportunity to sweep the season series from a tired and injury-plagued Orlando Magic team when the clubs duel Friday night in the California capital.

Floundering at the bottom of the Pacific Division last month, the Kings have come to life against a heavyweight portion of their schedule, winning seven of nine after a 5-10 start.

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The last three wins have come against Boston, Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers, part of a four-game winning streak that ended in a 119-111 home loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday.

One of the early wins in the Kings’ resurgence was a 121-107 triumph at Orlando on Jan. 27 in a game the Kings controlled from opening tip to final horn. All five Kings starters scored in double figures, led by Buddy Hield’s 29 and Harrison Barnes’ 21, while Richaun Holmes (20) completed a double-double with 12 rebounds, Marvin Bagley III (16) with 12 rebounds and De’Aaron Fox (16) with 10 assists.

Improved defense has been critical to the Kings’ surge. A team that had allowed 120 or more points in eight consecutive games has held the opponent under 120 in nine of its last 10 games.

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Coach Luke Walton likes what he’s seeing.

“What brings me the most joy is seeing where our team has grown, to see how they’re interacting with each other, to see how they’re starting to take on that accountability and that ownership and that communication on the court,” he said. “When you become a coach, you try to put your beliefs on what’s the best way of playing and building something, and then to see the guys starting to get that, it’s exciting. It’s fun. It’s the joy you get from coaching.”

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Fox had his fifth double-double in the past 11 games — after not having any in Sacramento’s first 13 contests — with 34 points and 10 assists in Tuesday’s loss to the 76ers. Sacramento was outrebounded 59-39 in the game.

That doesn’t bode well going up against Magic big man Nikola Vucevic, who had his second straight double-double and fifth in his last six games with 25 points and 13 rebounds in a 111-105 loss at Golden State on Thursday night.

James Ennis III also had a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the loss, during which the Magic burned five players at least 35 minutes apiece. The big minutes were required in part because Orlando suited up only nine healthy bodies, then lost one to a groin injury after Frank Mason III had played just four minutes.

Now with a tired roster and with one fewer healthy body, Magic coach Steve Clifford has a tougher task than the one he was brutally honest about before Thursday’s game in San Francisco.

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“They’ll all play,” he said of his game plan against the Warriors. “We’re going to be playing guys out of position. I’ve met with them all. We’re going to have to keep it super-simple.

“The reality is … we have nine guys. Three of them are centers. We have one point guard and one off-guard. It’s going to be different, and yet that doesn’t mean that we can’t play well and that we can’t give ourselves a chance to win.”

The Magic did just that for almost 40 minutes, taking a five-point lead into the fourth minute of the fourth quarter before running out of gas.

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–Field Level Media