Orlando heads to Memphis looking to make playoff push
The Orlando Magic and Memphis Grizzlies have yet to play this season, forcing them to now meet twice in the span of 13 days, starting Sunday in Memphis.
For a team like Orlando, in the middle of a playoff push in the Eastern Conference, this seems like good news, since the Grizzlies (27-40) have the second-worst record in the West, ahead of only Phoenix.
But the Magic don't have much margin of error and can't take anything for granted against Memphis, which has won three of its past four games, including an impressive 114-104 victory over the visiting Utah Jazz.
Memphis dominated down low, outscoring Utah 60-34 in the paint, led by one of its new pieces, center Jonas Valanciunas, acquired at the trade deadline from Toronto as Grizzlies mainstay Marc Gasol went north. Valanciunas scored a season-high 27 points against Utah and is averaging 19.2 points in nine games with Memphis.
"He's an efficient scorer down there and we're going to keep feeding him," Memphis guard Mike Conley said. "He's a really good passer, too. He makes the right decision and makes the right reads. He'd probably rather pass it than shoot it, honestly. So, we're just happy with the way that he's come in and just taken his role and continuously just getting better and making us that much more of a better team."
It is expected to be a solid battle down low between Valanciunas and Orlando All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, averaging 20.6 points and 12.0 rebounds. He had 20 points, 13 rebounds and six assists as the Magic beat Dallas 111-106 on Friday night.
That victory kicked off a stretch of seven consecutive games against opponents that are below .500. Orlando (31-36) is hoping to use this stretch to springboard past Miami (31-34) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
Orlando got a boost Friday from sixth man Terrence Ross, who scored 22 points after missing one game due to a sore left Achilles, but coach Steve Clifford was not pleased with the overall effort at such a key time of the season.
"(The Mavericks) got whatever they wanted the whole game, we were not interested in defense -- especially when we got ahead -- and it's not how we have to play," Clifford said, according to nba.com.
"It was, to me, one of the more disappointing (games) in terms of approach and intensity. You know, we got outplayed, but we just made more shots than they did. If (the Mavericks) shoot the ball the way they normally do, we would have lost tonight."
Orlando has won nine of its past 13 games and might have to continue momentum without backup point guard Isaiah Briscoe for a while. An MRI revealed Friday that he has a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Surgery could put him out at least three weeks.
"I'll have to see what the doctor says," Briscoe said. "I'll have to evaluate the long-term possibilities."
The rookie is averaging 3.5 points, 2.2 assists and 14.3 minutes in 39 games. Without him, the primary backup to D.J. Augustin will be Jerian Grant, who has been in and out of the rotation this season. He is averaging 4.2 points, 2.8 assists and 16.6 minutes in 52 games.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 9, 2019