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Magic arrive in Brooklyn in battle for playoff seeds

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Brooklyn Nets v Orlando Magic Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images

Well, that was nice. For the second time in three weeks, the Nets beat a team in a legitimate blowout. The 29-point margin of victory vs. the Hornets Saturday was the second biggest of the season (and the month) behind only the 41-point gap between Brooklyn and Golden State on February 5.

The opponent Monday is the Orlando Magic, who are battling the Nets for the final two playoff spots in the East. The top six spots are basically taken and the ninth seed Wizards are falling far behind. A loss Sunday to Bulls Washington puts them six games behind the Nets with 27 to go. They’re 15 games below .500, Nets are three.

In the battle between the Nets and Magic, Brooklyn is currently the seventh seed and two-and-a-half games ahead of the Magic who are in eighth. The teams are going in different directions, though. Brooklyn is 7-3 in last 10 games, Orlando is the exact opposite.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 7:30 PM. If you’re going, get there early. The first 10,000 fans will receive a Jarrett Allen Garden Gnome.

Injuries

Kyrie Irving will undergo shoulder surgery at some point soon and while Kevin Durant is doing well, he’s done for the season, too.

Meanwhile, Nic Claxton, Dzanan Musa, Jeremiah Martin, and Rodions Kurucs are all with the Long Island Nets for tomorrow’s home game against the Greensboro Swarm in Uniondale.

For Orlando, both Al-Farouq Aminu (torn right meniscus) and Jonathan Isaac (hyperextended left knee) are done for the season.

The game

This is the second meeting between the Nets and Magic. Orlando beat Brooklyn, 101-89, back on January 6. Markelle Fultz put up a career-high 25 points on a season-high 20 shot attempts in that one. The former No. 1 pick of the 76ers recorded 17 drives into the paint that game. Fultz, still only 21, has made it his business to attack opposing defenses with dribble penetration.

The Magic’s two bigs, Aaron Gordan and Nikola Vucevic, have a history with the Nets, putting up double-doubles and career highs on a regular basis when playing Brooklyn. In the Nets loss in January, Vucevic had 24 rebounds to go with 11 points while Gordon had 11 points and 14 rebounds. The Nets need to find a solution to those two (although historically, well, they haven’t.)

The Nets on the other hand have been playing well on both sides of the ball ... and have won their five home games by double digits, going back to January 29. A big reason for their success is on the defensive end. They’re ranked seventh overall in defensive rating and third since the start of December. Saturday was their best performance of the year statistically although holding Toronto to 91 points to end their 15-game streak shouldn’t be sneezed at.

Offensively, they are in a rhythm finding open men and hitting open. As Kenny Atkinson says, the Nets miss Kyrie Irving “badly,” but Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert are picking up the slack. Last five games, Dinwiddie has averaged 18.2 points, 9.6 assists and 1.2 turnovers. LeVert has averaged 22.0 points and shot 39.3 percent from deep.

Finally, there’s this: The Magic haven’t won in Brooklyn since the 2015-2016 season.

This will be the first of three meetings between the Nets and Magic between now and March 27. With a tight race for the last two seeds, they could be critical. After all, last year, the two teams finished 42-40 but because the Nets bested the Magic in the regular season series, Brooklyn won the sixth seed.

Player to watch: Aaron Gordon

No player gets Nets fans more excited at the trade deadline than Aaron Gordon, who would seem to be ideal for the Nets. A natural power forward, he’s athletic enough and shoots well enough to fit with Atkinson’s offense. And he’s still only 24 (although the loss in the dunk contest may have taken a few years off his life.)

So far this season, the 6’8”, 235-pound Gordon is averaging 14.1 points and 7.4 rebounds. His 3-point shooting is not what the Nets might want —30.3 percent this year and 31.3 for his career — but he is intriguing.

From the Vault

Monday is the ninth anniversary of the Nets press conference welcoming Deron Williams to New Jersey.

Things were so much simple then. Oh fyeah, one other thing. It’s also the anniversary of the Nets trade with the Warriors. The Nets sent Troy Murphy and a second rounder to Golden State for two expiring contracts, Dan Gadzuric and Brandan Wright. The second rounder turned into Draymond Green.

More reading: Orlando Pinstriped Post.

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