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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans welcome Orlando Magic to some gumbo and Anthony Davis drama

Orlando, winners of five of their past six games, arrive in Nola in the midst of what could be their first playoff surge in seven seasons.

NBA: Orlando Magic at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

If you thought this story was going away any time soon, well.....

From Sports Illustrated to the New York Times to ESPN to the Ringer, no one can get enough of Anthony Davis in the post-trade deadline era.

The NBA will continue to loom over the Pelicans’ franchise, as recent evidence would suggest. Not only did the Pelicans run out Anthony Davis on the second night of a back-to-back, they increased his workload up to 34 minutes to boot!

So round and round we go. While we’d probably like to talk about Kenrich Williams continued improvement, Jrue Holiday’s advantage over DJ Augustin and Evan Fournier, or even get a true litmus test of Jahlil Okafor’s progress against Eastern Conference All-Star Nikola Vucevic, instead we get to talk about this.

But there is still basketball to be played, and the Orlando Magic are really crushing it right now on both ends. Winners of five of their past six games, their offense has come to life in the absences of Jerian Grant (benched), Jonathon Simmons (trade) and Mo Bamba (stress fracture). Their defense has kept pace all season with the league’s best and currently sits just inside of the top ten (8th).

Head coach Steve Clifford is not one for excuses, and he’s convinced these Magic that they belong in the playoff conversation right now. Tied in the win column with the 8th and 9th seeded Pistons and Heat, respectively, this high level of continued play could very well land them in the sweet sixteen in April.

Nikola Vucevic (21 points, 12 rebounds, four assists), Aaron Gordon (16 points, seven rebounds, four assists), DJ Augustin (12 points, five assists) and Terrence Ross (15 points) make up the bones of the Magic’s improved play, but Jonathan Isaac has been the story in the second half of the season.

In the past six games, Jonathan Isaac has lit it up on both ends scoring 11.4 points, with 8.6 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 1.6 steals, 1.4 assists and that hardly demonstrates just how effective he’s been. He’s come on from distance of late, converting at least one three in six of his past seven games, and 6/13 in the past two alone.

Evan Fournier (15 points, four rebounds, three assists) is another wild card. He has the explosive potential to light you up for 30 points or shoot blanks and force the Magic into a downward spiral. His penchant for mind-blowing mistakes has also cost the Magic in critical moments. But when he’s on from three and aggressively running around screens, he can be a handful for even the best defenders in the NBA.

Finally, the Magic tend to get up early and collapse late due to offensive execution or lack thereof. The Magic lead the NBA in games lost when leading by 15+ or more (eight).

This may not become relevant with Grant, Simmons and Bamba out of the equation but the Magic did suffer a ten-point defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder after leading by as many as 12 in the third.

The Magic will slow this one down and fight for every possession. If that rings a bell, it’s because it’s exactly the formula used by the Grizzlies to out hustle the Pelicans this weekend.

The Magic are 26th in pace and 27th in fastbreak opportunities. They don’t get up and down the court, but they carry with them a couple of happy handed defenders who can convert on the other end in the blink of an eye.

They are 30th in points in the paint (a Pelican strong suit), but they do move the ball with ferocity (11th, misleading as they enjoy far fewer possessions than most). The Magic, as Frank Vogel would have you know, do not carry quality isolation basketball players. They generate shots through off ball movement, and with Nikola Vucevic’s array of moves in the post.

Anthony Davis should have his hands full against the watchful eyes of Gordon, Isaac and Vucevic, but this is the perfect opportunity for Jrue Holiday. Evan Fournier will likely garner the assignment, with Augustin hiding on Jackson, and Holiday has every bit the talent and veteran IQ to take advantage early and often.

Defeating the Orlando Magic will simply mean executing on the offensive end, full effort on both ends, and limiting mistakes. The Magic are learning to win, but still don’t have the talent to match with Jrue Holiday or Anthony Davis. If those two exert their will and get meaningful contributions from Kenrich Williams and Julius Randle, the Pelicans could walk away with this one.

But with the circus all but consuming the Pelicans, I’d expect the Magic to win this one. They know who they are, and they are playing their best basketball. Plus, do we even really care if the Pelicans keep losing?

Hellllllllllo, Zion!!!!

One last note:

Elfrid Payton may make his return just in time to face the squad that drafted him, then punted on him for just a second round pick during last season’s deadline. Payton (10 points, six assists, 35% from three) has played in 19 of 57 possible games this season and will need to make a late run to inspire free agent interest this summer.

Let’s geaux, Pels?

Where To Watch

What: New Orleans Pelicans (25-32) vs Orlando Magic (25-32)

Where: Smoothie King Center, Nola

When: Tuesday, February 12th, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO