Magic, Pelicans have similar mindsets entering key matchup

Two teams desperately trying to avoid falling into play-in territory in their respective conferences go head-to-head Wednesday night when the Orlando Magic visit the New Orleans Pelicans.

Both the Magic (44-31) in the East and Pelicans (45-30) in the West reside in the top six of the standings, but a run of losses in a road-heavy season-ending schedule could change that.

Orlando seemingly has righted itself with two consecutive victories following three losses in a row. The victories came over the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers, the latter by one point, to close a 5-3 homestand.

Now it’s five of seven on the road — where the Magic have played well, winning eight of their past 11 — with a potential disastrous closing gauntlet at Milwaukee and Philadelphia, then home against the Bucks if things go south in the meantime.

Magic coach Jamahl Mosley knows his guys are going to have to play better than they did in Monday’s 104-103 win over the Trail Blazers.

“You have to talk about the Magic standard and how we play — that wasn’t it tonight,” Mosley said. “We have to be better. Very simple.

“Respect the game of basketball and play the right way — from the beginning to the end. That’s what we have to continue to do to grow and learn.”

The Magic should be confident seeing the Pelicans as the opponent. Orlando was firing on all cylinders in a 121-106 home win over New Orleans on March 21, shooting 54.7 percent on the strength of 33 assists while outrebounding the visitors 40-33.

Paolo Banchero led the way with a triple-double, accumulating 20 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.

Banchero was matched up that night with Brandon Ingram until the New Orleans standout suffered a bruised left knee. Ingram hasn’t played since.

The Pelicans, who had won seven of eight to solidify their playoff position, have won just three of six since that loss to the Magic. The Pelicans’ past two losses — 104-92 to the Boston Celtics and 124-111 to the Phoenix Suns — have been particularly demoralizing in that they came in the middle of what was supposed to be a record-strengthening homestand.

Instead, New Orleans has lost three of four in the homestand with two to go, including Friday against San Antonio, before a rugged finishing stretch in which four of its five opponents — the Suns, Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers — are teams looking to move up in the Western standings.

“We need to respond,” Pelicans guard Dyson Daniels said after the loss to Phoenix. “We know these next seven games are going to be crucial, especially at home. We need to show we can defend our home floor and not let teams come in here and kick our (butts).”

The Pelicans are hopeful Ingram can return before the end of the regular season, but he won’t face the Magic.

–Field Level Media