Not sure how much of a difference D.J. Augustin would have even made in this one.
The Magic, playing in the second night of a back-to-back, always have difficulty with Kemba Walker and the Hornets, who they hadn’t beaten in their last 12 tries. And they did so again on Tuesday.
This time around Orlando was forced to start a point guard who had recently fallen out of the rotation. With Augustin and current back-up point guard, Jonathon Simmons, both out with ankle sprains, Jerian Grant got his first start in a Magic uniform.
The Magic actually got out to a fast start offensively but they were unable to sustain a consistent rhythm and make open looks, and they allowed the Hornets to shoot 49.4 percent from the field, en route to a 125-100 shellacking. After Charlotte established a double-digit lead, the Magic made runs to keep it close, but the Hornets had a response each time until they pulled away for good in the second half.
“Point guard play wasn’t the problem tonight,” Steve Clifford told reporters after the game, adding that the Hornets were a step quicker than the Magic all night.
Clifford returned to Charlotte for the first time since he was fired by the organization over the summer. There would be no revenge on this night, making Clifford 0-2 against his former team this season (sadly, this game was actually closer than the first, when the Magic were routed 120-88 in October).
The Magic attacked the paint early, making six of their first eight shots to open a 14-4 lead over the Hornets. A three later in the quarter by Walker sparked a 13-0 Hornets run that opened a 24-18 advantage. The lead reached 36-23 after the first, behind seven points each from Walker and Jeremy Lamb and eight points off the bench from Malik Monk.
The Magic opened the second on a 17-4 run, capped by a three by Terrence Ross that pulled the Magic within 43-40. But Walker, who scored 20 first half points, quickly responded to help the Hornets rebuild their lead. Walker found Monk for a three at the buzzer that sent the Hornets into the break up 63-53.
A three by Evan Fournier capped a 12-2 Magic run early in the third that against made it a one-possession game at 67-65. Rookie Devonte Graham then picked up the scoring load for Walker, scoring all 10 of his points in the third, including a three that opened a 94-77 lead late in the quarter.
The Magic were held without a field goal for the first five-plus minutes of the fourth quarter as the Hornets’ lead grew to as much as 35 points.
The Magic, who suffered their 13th straight loss to the Hornets, shot 41.3 percent from the field, connecting on just 10 of 35 attempts from three (28.6 percent). Aaron Gordon had 14 points on 6 of 17 shooting, and added eight rebounds and five assists. Nikola Vucevic was held to 12 points on 5-for-13 shooting, and limited to five rebounds. Jonathan Isaac added 11 points.
The pressure was on Grant, who had fallen out of favor with Steve Clifford during the Magic’s four game losing streak, and was demoted to third string point guard behind Augustin and Simmons. The Magic offense had found its way over its previous three games, averaging 115 points per. Grant had the unenviable assignment of replacing Augustin at a time when he was playing the best basketball of his Magic tenure, averaging 23.3 points and 6.7 assists and shooting 52.8 from the field over his last three games.
Grant finished with nine points on 4-for-10 shooting, and had five assists and no turnovers in 26 minutes. He split time with Isaiah Briscoe, who had six points on 3-for-5 shooting, plus two assists and three turnovers in 27 minutes.
Two-way guard Troy Caupain made his NBA debut and had five points and two assists in five minutes of playing time.
Troy Caupain makes his NBA debut; IB drives through traffic for the bucket. pic.twitter.com/kF9j7QIZ5t— beyond the RK (@beyondtheRK) January 1, 2019
“I thought they were actually pretty good,” Clifford said of the Magic’s point guards. “We were organized. I thought Isaiah’s defense was really good.”
Walker finished with 24 points on 10 of 16 shooting, and added seven assists. Monk added 21 points for the Hornets (17-17), who shot 49.4 percent from the field, including 45.8 percent from three (11-for-24).
After this loss snapped Orlando’s two-game winning streak, the New Years champagne won’t taste as good for the Magic, who fell to 16-20. They continue their six-game road trip on Wednesday when they play the Bulls in Chicago for their first game of 2019.