Magic-Raptors Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 25, 2012
Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy couldn't have been any more displeased with his team following a loss to the NBA leaders last week. Van Gundy is now feeling much better about his team's prospects. The Magic go for a third straight victory Monday night when the Toronto Raptors open a five-game stretch at Air Canada Centre following a tough last-second defeat. With a chance to win the season series and make a statement against the league-best Chicago Bulls before a possible Eastern Conference playoff pairing, Orlando (31-18) lost for the third time in four games last Monday, 85-59. It matched the third-lowest scoring effort in Magic history. "I mean, it's everything,'' Van Gundy said when asked what issue his team needs to fix. The Magic have turned things around nicely, winning two straight to cap a three-game homestand. While turnovers remain a concern - the club is averaging 19.2 in the last five games - Orlando has hit 23 of 58 from 3-point range over the last two contests while holding opponents to an average of 86.5 points. "We've got to play a little bit better when we have a lead but our effort the last two games and our focus on the defensive end of the floor has been very, very good," Van Gundy said after Friday's 93-80 victory over Cleveland. Dwight Howard has been outstanding in his career at Toronto. He's averaged 30.4 points with 11.7 rebounds in his last seven visits after scoring 36 points with 13 boards in a 92-88 victory March 5. Howard's average of 23.9 points in Toronto is his best on the road against any team. The Raptors (16-33) could also have their hands full with Ryan Anderson, who is averaging 21.5 points - second to Howard's 27.5 - and 9.0 rebounds in two victories in this series in 2011-12. Anderson, the league leader in 3-pointers made (135) and attempted (331), has been one of the keys to the Magic's last two wins, scoring 46 points on 10-of-23 shooting from long distance. "I think (the playoffs are) definitely on our minds,'' he said Friday. "When we huddle it up after the game that's one thing we focus on, just getting better because it's crunch time.'' At 12th in the East and with four losses in five games, the Raptors aren't likely headed to the playoffs. But they put quite a scare into the Bulls on the road Saturday before falling 102-101 in overtime. James Johnson, who finished with 20 points and eight boards, recorded his fourth block in the final seconds, but Bulls forward Luol Deng's putback before the buzzer was the difference. "That's the microcosm of the season,'' Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. It's uncertain if DeMar DeRozan will return to the lineup after having his streak of 130 consecutive games played snapped on Saturday due to a left ankle injury. Jerryd Bayless (left hip pointer) is also questionable after missing the last two contests. DeRozan has averaged 20.0 points versus Orlando this season after finishing with a team-best 23 earlier this month. Bayless had 15 points, six rebounds and five assists in 23 minutes off the bench. Andrea Bargnani missed that game with a calf injury, but he scored 28 points and grabbed seven rebounds - both team highs - in a 102-96 loss in Orlando on Jan. 1. The Raptors, who beat New York on Friday at the Air Canada Centre, haven't won two home games in a row since Dec. 1 and 3, 2010. The Magic, winners of four of five in Toronto, are trying to prevent their first three-game road losing streak since March 28-April 3.
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