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NBA Preview: Pelicans hope to stop the 11-game skid against the Orlando Magic

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The Pelicans have lost 11 straight. The Orlando Magic have lost three. Upending the Magic will be no easy task, but the Pelicans have no choice.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Amidst an eleven game slide (franchise record), the New Orleans Pelicans are facing down the barrel of yet another lost season.

Frustration has bubbled over after some dismal performances against the likes of the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks but against the Philadelphia 76ers, the squad looked to regain a bit of footing with 15 minutes from starting center, Derrick Favors.

Now, the Pelicans finally get a break in their schedule as they face the 10-15 Minnesota Timberwolves, 5-22 Golden State Warriors and 13-11 Brooklyn Nets (likely without Kyrie, Durant and Levert).

First, the Pelicans host their southeast neighbor, the Orlando Magic.

The Orlando Magic have lost three in a row to the Houston, Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks and still hold a tight grasp over the eastern conference’s eighth spot.

They carry the league’s second-slowest pace (97.5) as well as its’ 24th-rated offense.

It should come as no surprise that head coach Steve Clifford’s unit focuses on fundamental play. The Magic will not beat themselves. They are second in fouls committed, fourth in turnovers and 12th in defensive rating. They have plenty of length at every position making open looks at the perimeter and at the basket a fleeting prospect. They are an opportunistic group being second in blocks and second in steals per play.

Brandon Ingram has been the Pelicans’ most consistent offensive weapon but will face his most difficult task of the season against one of the greatest individual perimeter and low-post defenders in the NBA in Aaron Gordon and one its’ best help defenders in Jonathan Isaac.

The Pelicans will need positive contributions from their backcourt against the tandem of Evan Fournier and Markelle Fultz who have been simply superb offensively this season. After a dismal 2018-19 campaign, Evan Fournier has bounced back in a signficant way in a contract season, scoring 20.2 points per game in just 30 minutes per game on 44.8 percent shooting from three (ninth-best in the NBA - Redick is eighth).

Fultz has been a revelation for the Magic and they’ve needed every bit of his contributions. He’s been fifth-best at the rim among guards and has aveaged 17.6 points and 6.6 assists per 36 as a starter on 48.6 percent shooting including a much improved 76 percent from the free throw line. With his minutes restriction lifted, Fultz is fast becoming the backcourt difference maker the Magic has been seeking.

“We’ve got a lot of talented players on this team,” Aaron Gordon said after Friday’s shootaround. “A lot of people who can step up and win games for us. We’ve got to put it all together.”

The Magic are a good, sound basketball team and Pelicans’ fans should remember that well. After all, the Magic thrashed them by 23 and 30 points in their previous matchups last season.

The Pelicans have been desperate to get back into the win column and earn back the patience of their fan base. Though the Magic will present a significant test, this is a game the Pels need to win. It’s at home, they’re nearly restored to full health and time is fast slipping through their fingers.

And there’s good reason for optimism: the Pelicans have been signficantly better at home this season, just negative 3.1 as compared to negative 11.2 on the road.

Injury Report -

The New Orleans Pelicans should be as close to 100 percent as they’ve been all season with only Zion Williamson and Darius Miller ruled out. Derrick Favors played a perfectly even 15 minutes against the Philadelphia 76ers and should do so again against the Magic.

For the Orlando Magic, they’ll be without perimeter defender and former Hornet, Al Farouq-Aminu who suffered a knee injury over Thanksgiving break. Nikola Vucevic has missed the past two weeks due to an ankle injury but is close to returning and should be questionable for this matchup.

Per Orlando Magic Daily:

“This season, Vucevic is averaging 17.1 points per game and 11.6 rebounds per game. The Magic have a team-best 109.1 offensive rating with Vucevic on the floor and a 103.5 defensive rating with Vucevic on the floor. The team is a team-best +5.6 points per 100 possessions with Vucevic on the floor.”

Should Vucevic return as expected, energy man Khem Birch will likely head back to the bench, while fast improving sophomore Mo Bamba will get the bulk of his backup minutes against Jaxson Hayes.

Fultz returned to action against the Houston Rockets Friday night following a stomach virus that kept him home during practices and played about as well as you’d expect. Look for him to return to a Fultzer version of himself on Sunday night.

The Pelicans need this win. This is an opportunity to go on a run and restore faith with a winnable upcoming slate. Can they put it together in time?

Geaux Pels!

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (6-20) v Orlando Magic (11-14)

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: Sunday, December 15, 2019 2:30 PM CST

How: Fox Sports New Orleans