for this game

Magic-Timberwolves Preview

Dec 31, 2009 - 7:04 PM By ALAN FERGUSON STATS Writer

Orlando (23-8) at Minnesota (7-26), 8:00 p.m. EDT

Thanks to a successful run at home, the Orlando Magic moved back into the Southeast Division lead. To remain in first, they'll likely need to solve their recent road woes.

Fortunately for the Magic, they'll face some lighter competition during a three-game trip that begins Friday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Orlando (23-8) moved two games ahead of Atlanta in the Southeast by winning four times on its season-high five-game homestand, which concluded with Wednesday night's 117-92 victory over Milwaukee.

The Magic now play eight of their next 10 on the road, where they've dropped a season-high three in a row. In those games, Orlando faced three winning teams and fell to 7-7 against opponents currently above .500.

The Magic, though, are 16-1 against sub-.500 opponents, and they'll get plenty of chances to add to that mark as they face five straight teams who currently own losing records.

Orlando had few problems with Minnesota while sweeping last season's two-game series. The Magic won by an average of 17.5 points while shooting 55.2 percent and won 118-94 for their third straight victory at the Target Center.

Jameer Nelson was one of three Orlando players to score at least 20 in that win, but he's averaged 7.3 points since returning Dec. 21 from left knee surgery.

The point guard has been limited in practice and was also dealing with a "family issue" before Wednesday's victory in which he finished 1 of 7 with four points. Backup Jason Williams had a season-high five 3-pointers en route to 16 points and could begin to take away some of Nelson's minutes.

"I wasn't happy with the way Jameer played tonight, but there were some other things going on," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "I do think we're going to have to evaluate where we are at with Jameer. ... It's going to take him some time."

Vince Carter bounced back after taking a shoulder to the face in the third quarter, igniting a pivotal 17-2 run and finishing with 25 points after scoring 27 in an 86-77 loss to Boston on Christmas.

Carter has averaged 29.2 points in his last five trips to Minnesota (7-26) and scored 36 in his only game there last season with New Jersey.

He'll face a team that's dropped two straight after winning consecutive games for the first time. Minnesota, which is 4-13 at the Target Center, failed to win back-to-back home games for the first time with Wednesday night's 107-103 loss to Utah.

The Timberwolves trailed by 17 with 5:15 left before launching a furious rally that fell short.

"Any game like that is an opportunity missed," forward Kevin Love said. "That first three and a half quarters were bad to say the least."

Love finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds for his 10th straight double-double, and Al Jefferson scored at least 20 for the fourth time in six games, finishing with 21 on 10-of-15 shooting.

Jefferson has shot 37.9 percent in the past three meetings with Orlando while averaging 17.7 points.

The Magic, who have never won four straight in Minnesota, haven't dropped four in a row on the road since a five-game skid from Feb. 28-March 12, 2007.