Thanks to Saturday night’s 22-point win over the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers, the Pelicans pulled their record up to 3-3 — the first time the team’s been exactly .500 since February 2015. If New Orleans wants to surpass that mark, they’ll have to beat one of the current leaders of the Eastern Conference. No, it’s not the Boston Celtics, it’s not the Washington Wizards, it’s... the Magic.
It’s not like Orlando has been beating up on the bottom feeders this year either. The Magic have wins over the Cavs and Spurs on their resumes, and both wins were complete thrashings. Orlando beat Cleveland by 21 and San Antonio by 27 points respectively. The Magic’s point differential is +47, which is good for the fifth highest figure in the league. So far this year, Orlando isn’t just beating teams, they’re running them off the floor.
So what’s gotten into Orlando this year? For starters, they’re scoring the ball like crazy. Averaging a whopping 117.2 points this year, Orlando’s second only to the Warriors in points per game. Orlando’s also second in three point percentage, hitting around 43.5 percent of their attempts. They don’t attempt the most threes, averaging 28 which is good for 16th in the league, but so far the Magic aren’t missing from beyond the arc.
Evan Fournier has hit 16 of his 29 three point shots to start the year. Aaron Gordon’s hit on 10 of 17 threes. Even Nikola Vucevic is getting in on the excitement, converting 40 percent of his attempts. With already 30 attempts, he’s well on pace to surpass his previous career best of 75 three point shots set last season.
The Magic aren’t just scoring in bunches either, they’re also making the extra pass and limiting shooting efficiencies, too. Orlando has held opponent’s to a 47.7 eFG% (5th) and only the Warriors have averaged more dimes per contest. The assists aren’t coming from just one person, everyone’s getting teammates involved. Elfrid Payton, Shelvin Mack, D.J. Augustine, Fournier, Gordon and Vucevic are all averaging at least two assists a game so far.
With Payton dealing with a hamstring issue and missing three straight contests, Orlando’s primarily gone with a lineup consisting of Augustine, Fournier, Terrence Ross, Gordon and Vucevic. The group’s been on the floor 50 minutes and has combined for an offensive rating of 117.7 and a defensive rating of 97.6.
Their second most utilized lineup swaps Gordon for Jonathan Isaac. The offensive rating improves slightly (122.9), but defensively Issac helps ratchet up Orlando’s defense a few notches, posting a defensive rating of 78.3. Expect Orlando to lean on that first lineup more so than the one featuring Issac. With the way DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are playing, one would think Orlando would try and shield their prized young rookie from too much abuse.
Coming into this season, “home against Orlando” looked as sure of a win as any on the early schedule, but the Magic have, so far at least, proved to be a team on the rise. Who knows if they can maintain this level of play, but this had better not be a team New Orleans takes lightly. A win by either squad would only further validate either’s early season start.
The Pelicans have already beaten the East’s best unofficial roster in the conference. Let’s see if they can take down one of the teams with the best record, too.
What: New Orleans Pelicans vs Orlando Magic
Where: Smoothie King Center
When: October 30, 2017, 7:00 PM Central
How: FSNO, WRNO 99.5 FM