The Magic won their first game since...well, the last time they played in Charlotte.
Thanks to some shot-making and some stellar ball movement, which included a career-night from Markelle Fultz, the Magic defeated the Hornets 112-100 to snap their five-game losing streak. It was a much-needed win for the Magic, who had not won since their victory in Charlotte on Jan. 20. Orlando entered the game losers of seven of their last eight games, having failed to reach the 100-point mark in their previous four.
A match-up against the Hornets was the perfect remedy for Orlando’s offensive woes.
Wes Iwundu, who got the start with Khem Birch out because of back stiffness, was active on both ends early on (please keep him in the starting lineup, Coach Cliff). After deflecting a pass, Iwundu raced down court, received a pass from Aaron Gordon in transition and dunked it during a 7-0 Magic run that opened a 13-9 lead. The lead grew to 10 before the Hornets’ second unit closed the quarter on a 9-0 run to trim the Magic lead to 25-24. Far closer than it should have been given the fact that the Hornets had seven turnovers in the quarter. The Magic, though, failed to capitalize, scoring just four points off those TOs. Nikola Vucevic led the way in the opening quarter with 11 points, and Evan Fournier added eight.
Mo Bamba provided the spark early in the second as the Hornets backed off and dared him to shoot from the outside. Bamba scored 10 points in the opening minutes of the quarter - making all four of his shots, including a pair of threes - before collecting his third foul and taking a seat on the bench with 8:14 remaining.
It became apparent early on that it was going to be a special night for Markelle Fultz, who was pushing the pace and finding the open man. Less than eight minutes into the game, Fultz already had seven assists.
Fultz didn’t attempt his first field goal until under four minutes remained in the half, when he connected on a three and, on the ensuing possession, followed with a mid-range J. Fultz would score seven total points over those final few minutes, and finish the half with eight assists, to help send the Magic into the break with a 56-53 advantage.
Both teams shot over 50 percent in the half, with the Magic finally making threes at a consistent rate, hitting 7 of 17 attempts. The Magic struggled to keep the Hornets off the glass, allowing eight offensive rebounds that resulted in 16 second-chance points.
After going deep into the bench in the first half, Steve Clifford stuck almost entirely with his starters (plus T-Ross) in the third and the Magic did a better job controlling the glass. Gordon, after being held to two first half points after going 1-for-6 shooting from the field and 0-for-4 from the line, scored 11 in the third to help the Magic build a nine-point lead. His three with 5:52 left capped a 13-2 Magic run that opened a 71-61 lead. Orlando maintained that lead with some late-quarter threes by Vooch and Iwundu, taking an 85-77 lead into the fourth. Fultz surpassed his previous carer-high of 10 assists with 3:42 remaining in the third when he led the fastbreak and found Gordon for the dunk...
Fultz had 12 assists through three quarters.
Following a three-point play by Michael Carter-Williams to open the fourth, a Magic three-point barrage included makes by Fournier, Clark and Ross as the lead was pushed to 16. The Magic finally eclipsed the 100-point mark when Gordon drained a three with 5:18 remaining to give the Magic a 102-88 lead.
The Hornets answered with a 7-0 run to cut the lead to seven. Coming out of a timeout, the Magic barely got the ball over midcourt, when Fultz wisely caught the ball and in one mid-air motion and passed it down court to Ross, who hit the open three to get the lead back to 10 with 3:13 left. Ross followed with his third three of the fourth, also assisted by Fultz, to make it 108-95 with 2:28 to go, sealing the win.
Making shots certainly makes things a whole lot easier. Fultz finished with 12 points and 14 assists (only two turnovers), as Orlando overall had 35 assists on 43 buckets. If the Magic can consistently make shots (and/or add shooters), and Fultz is handed the keys to the car and fully unleashed, these double-digit assist showings could easily be a nightly occurrence.
Six members of the Magic finished in double figures as the Magic shot 53.8 percent from the field, including 16 of 34 from three (47.1 percent). Vucevic led the way with 22 points on 10-for-19 shooting and also had seven rebounds and five assists. Fournier added 17 points and Gordon finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
Ross - who in his previous four games shot 3-for-14, 3-for-15, 4-for-14, and 2-for-11 (combined 6-for-34 from three, 17.6 percent) - hit four of his seven three-point attempts for 12 points. Bamba once again was efficient and productive with 12 points (5-for-6 FG), seven rebounds and two blocks in just 12 minutes.
The Magic’s three-game road trip continues on Wednesday in Boston. It will be a rare national television game for Orlando, so hopefully they knock down shots the way they did tonight.