Orlando at Dallas
Time: 8 PM CT (NBA LP)
Spread: DAL -7
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Dallas Mavericks are salvaging their season and making a latter-half push for the 2017 playoffs. The Orlando Magic are firmly in tank mode and sheer disarray. Orlando enters Dallas as losers of 8 of its past 10 and sits 15 games below .500 as it finds itself 7-point underdogs to a Mavericks team that scarcely resembles the disaster it was that led it to pull out of the gates entrenched in the cellar of the West. Now Dallas has won 7 of its pas 10 to pull within just 2.5 games of the No. 8 seeded Denver Nuggets. The Mavs are a strong collection of veterans, and Dirk Nowitzki is not done yet. But Orlando? That is about the only narrative pulsing through their roster, which hardly seems united in its own right.
The Magic are now without starting small forward Aaron Gordon as he sustained a foot injury. The injury was not to his left foot, which had caused him to miss so much time as an NBA rookie, but the high-flyer is contained to a walking boot, putting his participation in the 2017 Slam Dunk content into heavy doubt. That hardly matters to Magic fans, but the PR that could have been pulled from the event could have only helped a franchise with so few positives to tout. Its other former dunk contest participant Victor Oladipo is shining in Oklahoma City, and Orlando is rumored to already be engaging in talks to move away from his replacement in Serge Ibaka.
Ibaka has played decent ball this year in Orlando, but has not really assumed any larger or more dominant on the offensive end, where the Magic most sorely need a significant boost in production from several players. The Magic average just 99.9 points per game, and a defense that was touted to have “elite potential” is surrendering 105.9 points per game, as well. Of course, finding bright spots in a season that shows Orlando with the NBA’s fifth-worst (tied) record is going to be difficult. Even the strong play of Evan Fournier can be negated with the notion that in no way should he be a team’s No. 1 option offensively. Apply that statement to the defensively-challenged Nikola Vucevic as well, and it is clear to see that the Magic are at least a superstar and several parts away from even being a competitive playoff team.
That is a shame five years into a rebuild, but not all rebuilds work out and the team has moved away from several of the players that were part of its initial core, Oladipo, and also departed swingman now-Detroit Piston Tobias Harris. Adding in the loss of other promising youngsters like Maurice Harkless, Dewayne Dedmon and Kyle O’Quinn, and it is quick to see how Orlando has got so little from its rebuild. The coaching instabilties have not helped: Current head man Frank Vogel is the fourth in a succession of coaches in just five seasons, and Scott Skiles turned out to be little more than a positive PR move after failing to relate to the players, nor make Orlando much better than it was during the Jacque Vaughn and James Borrego era.
The Magic have been pleased with Vogel reportedly, but some of his rotations can only make one scratch their head: Why does C.J. Watson start ahead of Elfrid Payton. In a clear tanking season, developing the youngest and brightest players on the team is the only thing that makes even a modicum of sense, and there is no mystery as to what Watson is as an NBA player, and that certainly is not part of Orlando’s future core plans.
Accordingly, this season should be spent largely on the development of Payton, Bismack Biyombo, Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja. Hezonja will be drawing his second-consecutive start with Gordon nursing his foot, but Mario struggled mightily in his first start and saw just 18 minutes after looking utterly confused on both ends of the court on several key possesion in Orlando’s loss to the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers. When Orlando is losing in crunch time to another lottery team without its best player, it really should count for two losses in the tank. And to be clear: Again: Orlando is tanking.
Dallas simply is finally nearly healthy and Dirk Nowitzki is rounding into form. The legend is certainly far from done, and even if Dallas merely makes a respectable playoff run, that is more than most were figuring would happen in a season that seemed to offer nothing more than Harrison Barnes for the first-third of it, at least. Barnes has been an offensive boost in Dallas, a team which plays at a slower pace, averaging even less (98.0) points per game than the Magic.
The difference is that Dallas does a much better job defensively in limiting opponents to 100.6 per game, and the Mavs had won four straight before most recently dropping two of its last three, with losses to the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets. The Loss to Denver hurt in particular with Dallas chasing them in the standings for that still-wide-open No. 8 seed in the West.