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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Orlando Magic

The Spurs look to win a battle of similarities

NBA: Orlando Magic at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

At first glance you might be tempted to think that the San Antonio Spurs and Orlando Magic are very different teams. After all, the Magic do sport a winning record, and are doing their best to hang onto what was once a guaranteed 8th seed in the Eastern Conference (prior to the introduction of Adam Silver’s play-in shenanigans), while the Spurs are just out there doing their best to get to 11 wins on the season. In that sense, the differences are stark.

However, with a little closer examination, there are some similarities that stick out a bit.

Like the Spurs, the Magic are one of the youngest teams in the NBA (4th). And, like the Spurs, the Magic tanked in order to pin their future hopes on the development of an exceptionally gifted big man. And, also like the Spurs, the Magic are a team that’s been better on the defensive end while trying to figure out who is best suited to run their offense.

This won’t seem as obvious looking at team statistics for the entire season, as the Magic have a net rating (14th) and defensive rating (5th) that’s significantly better than the Spurs.

However, since the turning of the new year (or rather, since starting Tre Jones and playing Victor Wembanyama at the 5), the Spurs have significantly improved their defensive rating (14th) and have been virtually neck-and-neck with the Magic in net rating (21st) and offensive rating (23rd) during that stretch.

This raises an interesting question as to what the Spurs’ record might have been up to this point, had the Spurs not spent the first 25 games of the season ‘experimenting’ at point guard.

In their only match-up so far, the Spurs played the Magic tight for most of the game (outside of a putrid 3rd quarter) and that was without leading bench scorer and offensive spark Keldon Johnson in the lineup.

At full strength, expect the Spurs to push the Magic to the limit, as these are two teams that match up well against each other and who are both are looking to prove themselves.

San Antonio Spurs at Orlando Magic

February 8th, 2024 | 6:00 CT

Watch: Bally (Soon to be renamed) Sports Southwest|Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Charles Bassey - Out (Knee)

Magic Injuries: None

What to watch for:

Continued Defensive Improvement

While the offensive improvement has been more marginal (though noticeable), the Spurs appear to have made real leaps on the defensive end. With Victor at Center, and Zach Collins mostly back to the bench (minus spot starting work), the Spurs have actually rated 12th on the league on the less glamorous end over the last month. From the start of the season to the new year the Spurs had ranked 25th. That rates a significant bump, and while the difference from a spectator’s view may not be as obvious (especially after so many years watching outstanding defense from the Silver and Black ), it’s proof that this team has in fact been improving and developing as the season has gone along, and largely on the end that insures championship aspirations. Yes, the Spurs have a ways to go on the other side of things, but offense is usually easier to come by in this era of the NBA. Less missed and/or busted rotations should be music to the ears of every Spurs fans. The kids are more than just crawling at this point, now it’s time to learn how to run.

For the Magic’ fans’ perspective, visit Orlando Pinstriped Post.

PtR’s Game thread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.