The Orlando Magic are visiting the Charlotte Hornets tonight in one of the few NBA games that still has significance for both teams. This is the last day of the NBA regular season, so we should see a lot of resting and limited minutes around the league. This obviously makes the spreads and overall games very strange to analyze, but that should not be the case here.
The Magic are tied with Brooklyn in terms of record heading into the last day of play. They are also just one game up on the Pistons, who play the Knicks. The Pistons are 3-1 vs. the Magic this season, so they would win the tiebreaker if they were to win tonight and the Magic were to lose. I think that this should provide more than enough motivation for the Magic to play this one at full strength like a playoff game. That being said, Nikola Vucevic is listed as questionable with a stomach virus. I think, given the circumstance put forth, that he plays his full run in this game. However, if he is out, I would not be as surprised to see the Magic punt this game for health reasons over seeding reasons. If the Magic win this game, they can play either the Raptors or 76ers in the first round based on the Nets results. One would assume the Nets would lock up the 6-seed tonight beating the Heat, who are playing for nothing, at home. If that is the case, the Magic would score the second-seeded Raptors in the first round. The Magic are 2-2 v. the Raptors this year, while they are 1-2 vs. Milwaukee and that win game against a Giannis-less Bucks team.
The Charlotte Hornets have a simple but difficult and uncontrollable path to the playoffs: win and hope the Pistons lose to the Knicks. Now this seems like a long shot, but the Pistons have been really bad recently, even trailing by 22 in the fourth quarter to comeback and beat the Grizzlies last night to maintain the lead in this race. The Hornets also get the bad end of the draw by having to play a playoff team that should be actively trying to win this game. All in all, the Hornets HAVE to win this game, and they should play this like a game 7 and hope for the best. This means that we should get full minutes from guys like Kemba Walker and maybe even see more of the veteran guys like Nic Batum and Jeremy Lamb play more minutes than they have in some recent games.
The overall matchups in this game favor the Magic in the frontcourt and the Hornets in the backcourt. Nikola Vucevic is one of the best offensive bigs in the game, and the Hornets are going to play Bismack Biyombo, Hernangomez, and Frank Kaminsky at the 5 to try to stop him. I wish them luck with that, but I don’t see it happening at all. If Vuc is playing, I expect a monster game from him. Aaron Gordon is also fantastic at the 3 and 4, but a possible matchup with Batum in a big game could be somewhat concerning.
On the other side, Kemba Walker should be on triple-double alert and 50 point alert early in this game. Augustin is a solid NBA vet, but he isn’t stopping Kemba. Vucevic is not that good of a rim protector, so we should see Kemba be able to brute force his way to a massive game in a must win.
It’s a Tough Call
Charlotte is a 4-point favorite in this game, and I think that line is reasonable and it may lean toward the fact that Vucevic will not play. If that is the case, I really like the Hornets to win this game by more than 4 points. If we get a Vucevic in later today, I would see if the line moves much. If we get closer to even, I still like the motivation of the Hornets to prevail, but I would be hesitant to bet -4 on Charlotte with Vucevic at full-go.