The Sacramento Kings begin a four-game road swing on Wednesday night when they visit an Orlando Magic team that is in the middle of a four-game homestand at Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.
The Magic will play their third consecutive home game, part of a seven-of-eight home stretch. They dropped the opener to the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday, 107-104, but won the second leg of the back-to-back on Monday, 117-108.
The 117 points marked Orlando’s highest regulation output since the team scored 118 on Dec. 29 in its fourth game of the season. Sitting at 105.5 points per game following Monday’s games, the Magic rank No. 28 of 30 teams in the NBA.
Magic coach Steve Clifford attributed Orlando’s offensive woes to the team’s defensive play.
“The real numbers are transition defense, points at the rim — things we’ve always been, whatever, top five, six in the league in, and we’re not even middle-of-the-road (this season),” he said in Monday’s postgame press conference. “Once we can get those two things done again, we’ll become the defense team we can, and hopefully the offense can progress at a similar rate.”
Orlando enters Wednesday’s matchup allowing an average of 110.1 points per game, up from a top-10 yield of 108.8 last season. Clifford cited the short duration between games — as the league plays a compacted slate during the COVID-19 pandemic — and a resulting lack of practices that has steepened the team’s defensive learning curve.
While Orlando enters its fifth game in eight days, Sacramento tips off its road trip of four games in six days on Wednesday coming off a lengthy hiatus.
The Kings most recently played Jan. 22 in a 103-94 defeat of the New York Knicks, which snapped the Kings’ four-game losing streak. Sacramento was scheduled for a Sunday-Monday back-to-back with Memphis, which was postponed due to contact tracing in the Grizzlies’ organization.
“It changes up our routine,” Kings coach Luke Walton said in a press conference Friday before his team’s win over New York. “It gives us some days that we weren’t planning on having in the middle of all this, so we’ll see what kind of bodies we have and, depending on that, we’ll either get some much-needed recovery or some much-needed practice or both.”
In terms of recovery time, the layoff could give Sacramento a deeper lineup with Hassan Whiteside, Jahmi’us Ramsey and Nemanja Bjelica all possibly returning after missing the Jan. 22 game.
The potential influx of depth joins the contributions rookie Tyrese Haliburton has made off the bench, which include a 16-point, five-rebound and four-block performance against the Knicks.
With 11.4 points per game, Haliburton is one of six Kings averaging in double figures in scoring. De’Aaron Fox sets the pace at 20.9 points per game.
Orlando rookie Cole Anthony is riding his own hot streak into Wednesday’s matchup. He scored 13 points, including two 3-pointers in the final minute, in the Magic’s comeback win at Minnesota on Jan. 20.
Anthony hit for a career-high 21 points in Monday’s win over Charlotte.
At 11 points per game, Anthony joins a corps of six Magic scorers averaging in double figures. Nikola Vucevic leads Orlando with a career-best 23.5 points per game.
–Field Level Media