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NBA Preview: Elfrid Payton shoots for sixth consecutive triple-double against former team when Pelicans battle Magic

Orlando still fighting to make the playoffs while New Orleans fans torn between feel-good wins vs draft lottery balls

NBA: Sacramento Kings at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

If there is anything more confusing than this New Orleans Pelicans’ season, please point it out for me.

Down 101-94, the Pelicans used the final 3:36 to force overtime and then rode their young developing core to secure the victory over ROY Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.

And that’s fine, in a vacuum. You want those big shots for your young team, and you want to see them develop. However, it completely and totally mitigates the disaster on Saturday night. With 7.7 seconds remaining, the ball, and a three-point lead, the Pelicans managed to throw away a sure-fire victory against the league’s second-worst team.

We could laugh about it then though — the almighty tank strikes again! Now, it just exists as a black stain on the team’s breastplate. The Pelicans currently sit in a three-way tie for lottery standings with the Lakers and Hornets, a game past the Wizards (8th), and likely having thrown away any shot at 6th or 7th.

Again, that’s fine. If the team continues to play hard and smart, a few spots in the lottery are worth sacrificing, just don’t ask me to forget about the loss to Phoenix in two months.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans will have the opportunity to distance that memory with a matchup against the still competing Orlando Magic. It’s somewhat laughable that the Magic find themselves but one game from the East’s eighth seed and yet two games separating them from the Pelicans. But, hey, don’t want to rack up those cross country miles in the playoffs, am I right Adam Silver?!

The Magic in many ways mirror the Pelicans. Thrilling victories over the Warriors, Raptors, Celtics, Jazz, Spurs, 76ers and Co. cover up the equally dismaying failures against the Knicks, Grizzlies, Wizards, and Bulls, among others.

It’s been an up-and-down season to be sure, but there has been plenty of positives to draw from the 2018-19 season, mainly the development of Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, and All-Star big man, Nikola Vucevic.

23rd in pace, 26th in offense, and ninth in defense, the Magic have truly become Steve Clifford’s squad. With endless length supported by Jeff Weltman’s findings and a lack of shooting, the Magic rely on their athleticism to overcome adversity.

In case you’ve forgotten about 11-year journeyman DJ Augustin, he continues to light it up from deep at 43.3% and makes the Magic +8.3 better on the offensive end when he occupies the floor. Terrence Ross has been dubbed the “Human Torch” for his penchant for lighting things up immediately upon entering the floor with the second unit.

But the real difference has come in the personage of young big man Khem Birch and Isaiah Briscoe. Their games have significantly improved the Magic’s depth in place of Jerian Grant, Jonathon Simmons and Mo Bamba.

Make no mistake, the Magic are desperate to win this one at home, having won just three of their previous seven contests. They’ve been significantly better at home, +4.3 compared to -3.2 on the road.

The long core of Gordon, Isaac and Vucevic should force AD to his mid-range game, and Randle will have plenty of bodies and arms to fight through. For the Pelicans to manage an upset, it’ll take stand out performances from the bench as well as a bit of self-implosiong from the Magic. And on the side, can Elfrid Payton keep his triple-double streak alive against his former team? Tune in!

Let’s geaux, Pels!

Where To Watch/Listen

What: New Orleans Pelicans (31-42) at Orlando Magic (33-37)

Where: Amway Center, Orlando, FL

When: Monday, March 20th, 2019. 7:00 PM CST

How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO