We're well and truly into the final stretch of the season. With the teams in the middle and end of the playoff standings still jostling for positioning, the Raptors have built up enough of a gap on the teams behind them to be able to play it conservative with respect to injuries and rest. With Jonas Valanciunas missing the past three games, and Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan resting a chunk of the last few games, the Raptors are virtually in neutral until the playoffs. DeMarre Carroll's return is the only remaining long-term worry, so look for the Raptors to continue to not reach 6th gear unless necessary.
The Orlando Magic, on the other hand, are in the midst of another disappointing season. When the only highlight of your year is a losing effort in the dunk contest, it's probably a bad sign. After years of accumulating young talent, Scott Skiles was hired to shepherd the troops into competing for a playoff spot, but that hasn't materialized. The Magic are 29-39, with another interesting off-season coming up. At some point, the pressure will be on for this project to manifest into something meaningful. For now though, another March and April of games that don't matter.
What to Watch For:
Aaron Gordon Running Wild
Trading Channing Frye to the Cavaliers ended up being a huge boon for the Magic, as Aaron Gordon is now well and truly unleashed. After he first reentered the public eye in the dunk contest, everything has come up positive for Gordon, as he's flourished in a more featured role. Flashing an improved jump-shot, energetic defense, and breathtaking athleticism, Gordon looks to be a prototypical 4 to build around in the future, with his ability to guard multiple positions seamlessly. I'm very curious to see how Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson matchup with him today.
Guard Test: Victor Oladipo
For a good chunk of the season, this looked like a lost year for Oladipo. Drafted as a do-it-all guard, Oladipo languished into a bench role, and seemed out of tune with Skiles' message. Fortunately for the Magic, he's been absolutely unstoppable of late, averaging 26 points on 58% shooting from the field and 55% from 3 over his last five games. With his typically smothering defense, the matchup with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry will provide a good test for them to stay sharp in the dog days of the season.
The New Norm
Norman Powell looks to have arrived. He seems to be on par with James Johnson in the rotation at this point, depending on matchups, and today's is right up his alley. With the number of combo guards and smallish wings the Magic throw out, this should be another game that Powell stakes his claim to a regular rotation spot. He's playing his best basketball over the course of this month and with his shooting normalizing to the levels we've seen in the D-League, Norm's a welcome new weapon on the Raptors' roster.
Where to Watch: 4:30 PM EST, Sportsnet One