The Jazz continued their winning ways with a relatively comfortable home victory over Sacramento on Saturday. Donovan Mitchell had 27 points to lead the Jazz to the 98-91 win, while their typically stingy defense was also a major factor.
Utah have won 14 of their past 16 games as they continue to force their way towards a playoff position. They aren’t quite there yet, sitting in tenth with a 33-30 record, though Denver are just two games ahead in eighth.
The Jazz won’t expect Magic to put up too much resistance, despite the fact that Orlando are coming off consecutive victories. The latest of these was a 107-100 win over Memphis in which all five starters scored in double figures.
Orlando are embroiled in an eight-team race for pole lottery position. With a record of 20-43, they currently sit in 14th place in the east and have the sixth worst record in the NBA.
Three keys to the game
Utah’s form - Since the end of January, the Jazz have been a completely different team. Their offense has remained relatively stable, but it’s at the defensive end of the floor where they’ve transformed their season. Utah concedes just 98.7 points per 100 possessions in their past 15 games, the best in the league and almost four points better than the second best team.
Contrasting motivations - Utah have everything to play for, needing to win a majority of their games for the rest of the season to sneak their way into the playoffs. In contrast, Orlando don’t benefit a whole lot from winning. They could just as feasibly finish with the eighth worst record in the NBA as they could with the worst record in the NBA, which would give them pole position in the lottery.
The Stifle Tower - Utah concede the fifth fewest points in the paint per game at just 42.3, though if Rudy Gobert had played more games they would likely concede even fewer. He is the most intimidating interior force in the league, and his mere presence forces teams to look to score in other ways. Orlando might struggle to do this; they score the eighth most points in the paint per game in the league, one of the few areas of their offense in which they are above league average.
Matchup to watch
Evan Fournier vs Donovan Mitchell - Despite Orlando’s disappointing season, Fournier has been a relatively solid player for them throughout the year. He averages a career-high 18 points per game, shooting 46.1% from the field and 38.3% from 3-point range, and dishes out 2.9 assists. He is far from a superstar, but the Frenchman is a solid piece, and could easily be a useful third or fourth man on a good team.
He will spend much of his time on Mitchell in this game, a man who has spent the entire season showing the basketball world that the pick 13 at which he was taken in the draft was too low. In his rookie year, Mitchell averages 19.9 points on a relatively solid 43.9% shooting, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.4 steals. In his past nine games, he has only once failed to pass 20 points. So good has he been that he is now considered a legitimate threat to Simmons rookie of the year campaign, despite the Australian having one of the best rookie seasons in history.
Utah Jazz predicted starting lineup
PG - Ricky Rubio | SG - Donovan Mitchell | SF - Joe Ingles | PF - Derrick Favors | C - Rudy Gobert
Orlando Magic predicted starting lineup
PG - DJ Augustin | SG - Evan Fournier | SF - Jonathan Simmons | PF - Aaron Gordon | C - Nikola Vucevic
Gobert was absent for the one matchup between these sides so far this season, meaning Favors started at the center position. He capitalized on Vucevic and the Magic’s lack of interior defense, going 10-for-12 from the field on the way to 25 points, and grabbing six offensive boards out of his 11 total rebounds. He also contributed three rebounds and two blocks. With Gobert at his side this time round, expect the two Utah bigs to put in big performances in this game.
Orlando have been given a ten-point head start by oddsmakers, and while they will lose the game, expect them to keep it to withing double figures. They are far from the worst roster in the NBA, and can generally keep most games competitive, even if they don’t win many. In what will be a low scoring game, back them to cover this line.
Utah will make it 15 from their last 17, accounting relatively easy for the Magic. Favors and Gobert will be far too much for Vucevic, Gordon, and the Magic team, and expect the twin towers to combine for 30+ points and 20+ rebounds.
Ingles will continue his good shooting form, while Mitchell will be too swift for the backcourt of Augustin and Fournier. Orlando might be able to keep this match competitive for two or three quarter, but Utah will run away with it in the last to win 106-98.
The game will be broadcast locally on ATTSN-RM and FS Florida. Tip-off is at 9pm ET.