Said to have one of the easier remaining schedules in the NBA, the Orlando Magic showed on Friday that every game, no matter the opponent, is a challenge.
After losing a perceived “easy” game to a Bulls team that entered with the league’s fourth worst record, the Magic had to travel north of the border to face the owners of the league’s second-best record: the Toronto Raptors.
Hours before game time, it was announced that one of the most challenging games remaining on the Magic schedule would become somewhat “easier” than expected. Kawhi Leonard would not be playing for rest purposes.
The Magic capitalized, leading nearly wire-to-wire en route to a 113-98 victory, helping to avenge their loss to the Bulls and keep pace in the playoff race. The Magic now lead the season series against the Raptors, 2-1. And for those who will use Leonard’s absence as an excuse: the Raptors entered 13-3 in games without him this season, with a majority of those victories coming before they acquired Marc Gasol.
Jonathan Isaac - who against the Bulls on Friday was limited to 1-for-6 shooting for four points, his lowest scoring game since January 7 - scored seven of the Magic’s first nine points.
Terrence Ross later scored six straight points as the Magic closed the first on an 8-0 run to to take a 25-15 lead after the first. The Magic shot only 33 percent in the quarter, but actually out-shot the Raptors, who were limited to just 27 percent.
The Magic extended the lead to 12 after Evan Fournier drained a three and Jerian Grant, serving as the back-up point guard with Isaiah Briscoe out with a concussion, converted a layup off a turnover to open a 32-20 lead. Kyle Lowry, after being held scoreless in the first, later scored seven straight points for the Raptors, cutting their deficit to 36-29 with 6:37 to go in the half. A pair of threes by Jodie Meeks pulled the Raptors within one at 38-37. Meeks and Lowry each scored 10 in the quarter, but the Magic managed to maintain the lead thanks in part to their three-point shooting towards the end of the quarter.
The Magic led 53-50 at the half. Vucevic had 13 points and seven rebounds, and Ross had 13 points and six rebounds off the bench. Gordon, probably eager to put the late foul he committed against the Bulls behind him, was scoreless in the first half, shooting 0-for-5 from the field. The Magic shot 40 percent, including 7-for-20 from three (35 percent), but grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the half.
Lowry, Meeks and Pascal Siakim each had 10 first-half points for the Raptors, who shot 43 percent from the field.
Making the most of an opportunity pic.twitter.com/TlWQzAQeBq— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 24, 2019
The Magic again established a double-digit lead, going up 63-53 with 9:24 to go in the third. The Raptors immediately responded with a 10-0 run, highlighted by threes by Lowry and Marc Gasol, to even the score just 2:19 later. The Magic then answered with a 15-4 run - which included a pretty alley-oop from D.J. Augustin to Isaac in transition, and Gordon’s first field goal of the game with 1:16 left in the quarter off a feed from Grant - and took a 80-71 into the fourth.
Ross opened the fourth by scoring the first seven points of the quarter for the Magic, capped by a three that opened an 87-75 lead.
The lead only grew from there, reaching 16 points after threes by Vucevic and Isaac made it 100-84 with 5:22 remaining. It grew to as many as 20 points after a three by Isaac, as Orlando finished 14-for-36 from three (38.9 percent).
Ross led the way with 28 points and nine rebounds. Vucevic added 23 points and 12 rebounds, and Jonathan Isaac had 16 points (3-for-6 from three) and six rebounds. Augustin finished with 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds, and his back-up for the evening, Grant, played well, tallying seven points, seven assists and zero turnovers.
Gordon, who was held scoreless in the first half, finished with seven points, seven rebounds and six assists but shot just 2-for-11 from the field, missing all four of his three-point attempts.
With the win, Orlando gained a half-game on the idle Charlotte Hornets, and now sit one game out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Magic next head to New York on Tuesday for a match-up with the Knicks, in what is considered one of those “easier” games on their schedule.