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Hornets 109, Magic 99: Orlando's smallball lineup almost makes the comeback a reality.

Despite going down more than 20 points, and suffering from injuries and foul troubles, Orlando improbably mounted a near-comeback with a desperation small-ball group.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Magic have battled injury issues as of late, and things weren't getting any easier on Wednesday night against the Hornets.  Ersan Ilyasova joined Elfrid Payton and Nikola Vucevic on the DNP-list, and foul troubles would leave the Magic dangerously thin at the big man positions.  That situation produced one of the most interesting lineups of the season for the Magic, led by Andrew Nicholson at the center position at Devyn Marble at power forward, and that wild group almost mounted a massive comeback.  Still, the deficit the Magic allowed to build up in the second quarter was too much to overcome, and Orlando fell to the Hornets 107-99.  Victor Oladipo led Orlando with 25 points on 10-18 shooting, logging 42 minutes on the second night of the Magic's back-to-back.  For Charlotte, Marvin Williams and Nicolas Batum each scored 26 points, while Batum added 7 assists.

The bad news early and throughout the second quarter was the foul trouble for Orlando's power forwards.  Aaron Gordon picked up his first two fouls in the first two minutes of the game, and without Ilyasova available, it forced Skiles to bring in Andrew Nicholson.  Nicholson played effectively in his time on the court, picking up a nice block at the rim and doing some work in the post, but he racked up three personal fouls.  That led to the rarely-seen Dedmon/Smith combo, which has seen only 41 minutes on the court before Wednesday's game.  Despite the foul trouble, the Magic stayed ahead of the Hornets thanks in large part to Oladipo's offensive production.  Oladipo has shown a propensity to settle for bad shots sometimes, but early on against Charlotte he got to the basket and took good shots in rhythm.  He alone accounted for 15 of the Magic's 30 first-quarter points, while Brandon Jennings contributed 8 more.  The Magic led 30-26.

The second quarter started off quietly for Charlotte as Orlando slowly increased their lead.  Charlotte had just 1 point in the first three minutes on an Al Jefferson free throw, while the Magic got 5 points to get a 35-28 lead.  That's when things started to go off the rails.  Batum, who was scoreless in the first quarter, abused Evan Fournier over and over again on the perimeter and in the high post, shooting over him and draining every shot on his way to 16 points.  He continued to pass effectively as well, dropping 8 dimes by halftime.  Behind Batum's scoring outburst, the Hornets went on a 30-6 run to take control of the game, including an 18-0 streak.  The Magic's offense looked crisp in the first quarter, but they couldn't get anything to go down after that.  They had several chances at baskets near the rim, but most of them missed, and many of them weren't even close to going in.  The Hornets dominated the second quarter 35-13, taking a commanding 61-43 lead.

The Magic's offense returned in the third, but their defense from the first quarter was nowhere to be seen.  Fournier got a few more shots to fall to get 6 points in the quarter, while Oladipo got a couple more baskets of his own to reach 21 in the game.  Mario Hezonja also got going, and it was encouraging to see his shooting and passing looked solid throughout the game.  He also got ample playing time, logging the second-most minutes of any Magic player at 30.  Despite 28 third quarter points, Orlando's deficit only grew larger.  Batum continued filling up the box score, but it was Marvin Williams who took over the volume scoring duties.  He had 13 at halftime, but scored another 11 in the third, including two more of his four long-range makes on the night.  While the Hornets were effective making contested shots throughout the night, the Magic didn't do themselves any favors.  They were often a step behind trying to contest shots at the rim or on the perimeter, and they didn't do the best job containing the Hornets on the glass, as Charlotte corralled 15 offensive rebounds on the night.

Against all odds, the Magic mounted a fourth-quarter comeback with a super-small lineup.  Nicholson manned the center position and Devyn Marble occupied the 4-spot, and they rounded out the lineup with CJ Watson, Oladipo, and Hezonja.  That group actually managed to make it a 14-point game before the Hornets were forced to sub in most of their starters, and the run only continued from there.  They shrunk the lead all the way down to 6 before Williams got a lucky tip on a rebound and Marble fouled Batum on a jumper, letting the Hornets go up again by 10.  The Magic weren't done yet, though.  Another hook shot from Nicholson and a Marble corner three against 1/2 free throws from Batum got the lead to 6 again.  That was as close as they would get, however.  Two untimely turnovers (including one completely unnecessary giveaway as Nicholson grabbed a rebound standing out of bounds), and a miss on a pull-up jumper by Oladipo sealed the deal.