(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Orlando Magic
Game 1 Time: 4 PM CST (ESPN)
Game 1 Spread: TOR -9
Game 1 Over/under: 212.5
Betting Odds c/o 5dimes
The Orlando Magic make its return to the NBA playoffs after a seven-year drought that followed the exodus of former three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard. Following his departure in 2012, the Magic failed to win more than 35 games before finally scratching through this year to emerge with the No. 7 seed in the East and a 42-win season. It drew what many are considering a favorable matchup for Orlando, the second-seeded Toronto Raptors. While few are disputing the Raptors status as the better team in this series, there are a number of valid reasons to believe the Magic have the matchups favorable to create a 7 over 2 upset in the East this year. The lower seeded teams (Orlando, and Brooklyn, especially) are both well-suited to face their respective opponents in the 2019 NBA Playoffs first round. Let us examine those matchups in our series preview here at Maddux Sports.
The Orlando Magic are a unique team led by Steve Clifford, former coach of the Charlotte Hornets. While the Magic are not resplendent with a lot of offense, it defends nearly as well as any team in the Eastern Conference and features enough talented scorers to put up points itself. The Magic closed the season by winning eight of its f inal 10, and the Magic fared 25-16 at home this season. Concerning is the 17-24 mark without the Raptors possession of home court advantage, but the fact Orlando is a hot team can hardly be ignored in the picture here.
The Magic were under .500 approaching the All-Star break, but Nikola Vucevic’s first all-star Appearance and the first by a Magic player since Howard seemed to invigorate both the team and its fan base. The Amway has been noticeably more engaged with a winning team on the court, and Vucevic’s play is the primary reason behind Orlando’s turnaround— with the exception of Clifford’s exceptional influence and discipline of his team. The Magic have confidence and identity now, but Vuc is also a free agent this summer. Will Orlando re-sign the All-Star or will it take a step back and seek to develop its most-recent lottery pick, Mo Bamba? Perhaps that is another topic for another day, as Vucevic is now bracing himself for his first playoff appearance but also a potentially huge pay day this summer—with Orlando or otherwise.
Equally as instrumental in the turnaround has been the play of super-sub Terrence Ross, who has done nothing short of finding his niche and calling as an NBA player. He has been electric, efficient, high-scoring, and one of Orlando’s biggest not-so-secret weapons. Ross averages just under 15 per game, but he does it in just 27 minutes a night and can get as hot as anyone on Orlando’s roster. Add into that, the shooting of Evan Fournier, and the Magic really do have sufficient floor spacing. That is the second factor in what allowed Vucevic to essentially become a Nikola Jokic-lite. The Magic more closely resemble the Denver Nuggets perhaps than any other EC playoff team. This is not to suggest Orlando is on Denver’s level, but both teams do run their offense through a center and rely heavily upon sixth and seventh men in the rotations, respectively.
Now, another deep team? That is Orlando’s opponent, the Toronto Raptors. Toronto has one of the best deep rotations the league, and to deny that claim would be disingenuous considering how well the Raptors have assembled this team. Adding Kawhi Leonard in the trade that sent San Antonio perennial All-Star DeMar DeRozan seemed to be the icing on the cake, while LeBron James finally taking his talents westward enabled Toronto to have its path cleared to finally emerge out of the East, possibly. Of course, whether the Raptors can ultimately manage to knock out the Milwaukee Bucks is dubious in its own right— but its task begins with the enigmatic Magic team that has some ESPN panelists calling this series the most likely upset in the first round.
O.G. Anunoby will be out for the series due to an emergency appendectomy, and that is a pretty big loss for Toronto. But the key matchup to keep an eye on is Paskal Siakem and Jonathan Issac.
Issac has limited Siakem to just eight points per game this season, while his season average was over twice that (17). If Isaac continues to put the clamps on Siakem, that takes a major weapon out of Toronto’s attack: DeRozan would thus have to go nuts to provide enough scoring. That has been Orlando’s general approach to Toronto, anyway, while the season series was even at 2 games Toronto, 2 games Orlando.
That 2-2 season split is part of what suggests this will be close. There is also a notion among analysts that the Raptors simply are doomed in the playoffs, but this has almost always been at the behest of LeBron James, be it in a Miami Heat or a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform. The Magic are excited to be back in the postseason and have a legitimate chance at upsetting Toronto: There are far worse money line pick than taking Orlando in this series.