The current NBA champions host the Orlando Magic in a rematch of the Eastern Conference 1st playoff round.
Coming off a win at United Center against the Bulls, Nick Nurse's team is looking to gain momentum. Pascal Siakam, Toronto's superstar, is starting the season averaging career highs in almost every category (28.7 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 3.7 APG), in an attempt to fill Kawhi Leonard spot, who left for the Los Angeles Clippers. The player is expected to have an All-Star caliber season, and will try to carry his team to the first top 4 spots in his conference, giving them a chance to compete against the best teams in the league. With Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard departures from the team, the weight drops on Toronto's veterans, such as Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, as they need to have an increased role for them to have a chance at winning.
Both Gasol and Ibaka should be able to contain Nikola Vucevic production tonight, with OG Anunoby and Siakam guarding Orlando's biggest threat in Aaron Gordon. Fred Vanvleet has been a pleasant surprise, averaging 19.3 Points Per Game. The guard stepped up big time in the Finals last year, and it looks like he lost no rhythm over the summer, contributing big time to a team in need of scoring threats.
On the other side, the Magic come from their best season in quite a while, reaching the playoffs for the first time in 6 years, losing in the first round to eventually NBA champions Toronto Raptors. Steve Clifford's team comes from a tough loss to the Atlanta Hawks, as they shot the basketball terribly, 35.4 percent from the field and 16.1 percent from 3-point range.
"I'm not saying we're going to make every shot, but you can't shoot 17 percent (on 3-point attempts)," Magic coach Steve Clifford said. "You've got to make quality shots. For the most part, we had the right guys shooting them."
If the Magic want to have any possibility of winning tonight's game they will have to shoot much better than they did. Combine the poor shooting performance with the Raptors perimeter defense, and that could spell trouble for the Magic. Aaron Gordon will need to be on a special night to carry Orlando's scoring load and cover for Siakam on defense, something he's capable of. The playoffs remain the goal for this team and they could even have a small chance for home court advantage, depending on injuries and development of certain players.
Orlando has lost 9 of the previous 14 regular season games against the Raptors and I expect a similar outcome tonight. For them to have a chance, Aaron Gordon and Vucevic need monster games, combined with a low defensive effort from Canada's team. I suspect that Siakam and company will want to start a winning streak, and a win tonight will do the job.
Toronto Raptors -4.5 @1.86
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