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Preview: Serge Ibaka returns home as floundering Magic engage the Thunder

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WE MISS YOU <3 #avecclasse #mafuzzy #mafuzzi #vibes

Oh, sweet memories....
W. Bennett Berry

The Magic are the new teammates of Serge Ibaka. Ibaka is pretty much tied with Westbrook as my favorite Thunder player of all time. So it was a real pain to see Ibaka leave this past season. However, as someone who wants the Thunder to win, I praise Presti for capitalizing on Ibaka’s value while it was high. From the Magic’s perspective, the trade was a move to establish veteran leadership on a young team. The Magic were very young last season, and led by a known disciplinarian in Scott Skiles. That version of the Magic had 35 wins and some talent, but played really uninspired ball. Skiles “stepped down” at the end of the season, claiming that this Magic team wasn’t right for him.

The Magic squad played a very defensive brand of basketball, that was all about capitalizing on turnovers. In terms of total distance traveled by their players as a whole, the Magic ranked #1 in the NBA last season. However, the Magic were in the lower tier of the NBA in terms of three point attempt rate. So Magic management likely reasoned that adding more veteran leadership and shooting would help them win, as long as they didn’t sacrifice defense. In comes Serge Ibaka, an extremely seasoned and talented playoff veteran. Perfect world, right?

Wrong. Nine games in, the Magic are 3-6 and stand at 11th in the Eastern Conference. Ibaka is the only player on the roster shooting threes at above a 40% clip. And as a team, the Magic are ranked 26th in three point percentage. Dead last when it comes to two point percentage. Even the defense isn’t perfect, ranking in the upper tier statistically but nothing remarkable.

One thing’s for sure though. This Magic team suffers from a lack of shot creators. Ibaka is a hell of a shooter and pick setter, but he does not create shots. Vucevic and Fournier are probably the two best the Magic have. But their offensive games are limited. Vucevic has nice touch around the rim, but no three point shot. And Vucevic can kill you on D. Fournier can work in a limited capacity around screens and even in post ups. But on an NBA scale, you really don’t want Fournier as anything more than a fourth or fifth option ideally.

Long-time Thunder fans will get a kick out of seeing D.J. Augustin and Jeff Green rolling with the same team as Ibaka. Augustin has really seen a rennaissance with the Magic, mentoring Elfrid Payton and providing a steady hand from the bench. However, Augustin’s field goal percentage remains low. Jeff Green is doing his usual thing. That means taking a lot of shots and shooting really bad percentages. Green isn’t really a chucker as much as he is consistently disappointing. You feel like Green had the capacity to be KD lite, but his shooting, ball handling, and shot creation just never got to a proper level. Green is shooting 34.8% at the moment, but history tells us that he’ll finish the season above 40%.

The Thunder are well on their way to a playoff season, as it currently appears. The losses to the Raptors and Clippers at home were disheartening, to be sure. But OKC moved more personnel than those teams did, and both of those teams are proven winners. When it comes to flawed teams like the Magic, the Thunder are generally able to pick up wins.

Ideally, the Thunder would pull away with superior shooting and rebounding. But the pieces don’t fit perfectly yet, and Kanter is always a big question mark. Tonight, Kanter likely won’t have much success moving Orlando’s bigs. That sets the table for a fast-paced brickfest. And with Ibaka inspired to defeat his former team, he’ll likely have a big performance and keep it close. As such, I think the Thunder will be able to coast to victory only around the final minute or so.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 103, Orlando Magic 95.

What do you think of tonight’s game? Drop a comment and let us know!

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Injuries: Jodie Meeks (Out), Cameron Payne (Out)

Time: 6:00 PM CST

Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

TV: Fox Sports Florida, Fox Sports Oklahoma