NBA League Pass Picks: Golden State Warriors at Orlando Magic

Golden St. at Orlando

Time: 6 PM CT (NBA LP)

Spread: GSW -4

Total: 225

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The Golden State Warriors have lost three of its last 10, but it still sits atop the Western Conference standings and is the prohibitive favorite in the West with the return of DeMarcus Cousins to round out its starting lineup with five All-Stars.

Cousins returned Jan 18 against the L.A. Clippers and scored 14 points in his debut on 5 of 11 shooting. He is still facing minutes restrictions, but that is expected after tearing an ACL and rehabbing for the better part of 12 months. Cousins eventually should give the Warriors a needed interior presence on both ends of the court. While he has been maligned over his career for his attitude and behavior, perhaps being on a true winning team will bring some sort of Renaissance for the center. Cousins has averaged 21.5 points and 11 rebounds over his 10-year NBA career and is widely regarded as one of the most skilled and best stretch-5s in the business. Adding a weapon like that to Golden State should only transform the Warriors into a more unbeatable team as he rounds into shape.

It certainly should strike a little fear into teams to imagine what this team can do with a healthy roster. Stephen Curry is turning in an MVP caliber season with his 29.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game, and Kevin Durant is still the most efficient scorer in the league. Thompson can get as hot as anyone in the Association, and Draymond Green’s versatility—hopefully— will tie it all together, as he is one of the best high post passers in the league.

There is a cushion, a warning, that this could implode due to chemistry issues, and certainly the forerunners of that were already seen when Green and Durant exchanged (insults) words, but the Warriors — on paper— should be relatively unstoppable. If it does not transfer to the court, that would be tragic, though the rest of the league is basically praying for that implausible friction to actually occur.


The Orlando Magic might finally be turning the corner after six long-suffering seasons since the departure of former three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard. The team has gone through four coaches, but it finally found its man in Steve Clifford. Clifford said prior to the season if he could manage to coach the Magic to a top-10 defensive rating the team would make the playoffs. The Magic have done just that: It is now ranked No. 10 in defensive rating and knocking on the door of postseason contention.

Instrumental in all this has been the play of All-Star center Nikola Vucevic. “Vooch” is in a contract year and will be a free agent that many teams will covet after this season. With Orlando grooming Mo Bamba (but also with him being nowhere near ready for big minutes), it will be a matter of intrigue to see what the front office decides to do with regard to Vucevic. Ostensibly, he has been the primary reason for Orlando’s successes this season, but the Magic are still not deluded enough to discard the idea that the team is rebuilding. Bamba has shown flashes, but he needs to add a lot of bulk to match up with NBA centers. His shot blocking is a skill that is always useful, but he often looks confused on offense. Right now? He is sitting out with a stress fracture, though it is not expected to require surgery.

Outside of Vucevic, Aaron Gordon has become more consistent, and Terrence Ross is probably the chic pick for Sixth Man of the Year as a total flamethrower who has bailed out the Magic on numerous occasions during scoring droughts. Ross, too, is a free agent after this season. The Magic might look promising now, but it is a team that will have many decisions to make.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Issac and Wesley Iwundu are blossoming in their sophomore seasons. Isaac had an 18-point first half in the Magic’s most recent victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. He finished with 20 points and three blocks, displaying the two-way dominance that the Magic thought he would when it selected him No. 6 overall out of Florida State.

Iwundu’s contributions tend to be often intangible, but Clifford rightly dubbed Wesley the team’s best perimeter defender and he should have a long career if only because of his energy and defensive talents. The Magic are really rounding into shape, and once the team upgrades its point guard position from DJ Augustin, it really might be a middle-tier contender. That is all ignoring the fact that the future point guard may already be in tow: Markelle Fultz was acquired from the 76ers and should debut soon.

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