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Magic vs. Thunder preview: Orlando looks to rebound from first loss of season Saturday

NBA: Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

After dropping an ugly contest Thursday night to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Orlando Magic are looking to get back on the right foot in the new year at the Amway Center Saturday night.

Orlando, who trailed Philadelphia by as many as 37 points in the first half Thursday, dropped their first game of the season after starting the year 4-0 (an all-time franchise best). The Sixers burned the Magic from beyond the arc, led by Seth Curry (20 points, 5 for 7 on 3PTA’s), Joel Embiid (21 points, 1-2 3PTA’s), and Tobias Harris (20 points, 3 for 4 on 3PTA’s).

The Magic were never really in the game, but they will need to forget and move on - starting with an opponent they played earlier this week.

The Oklahoma City Thunder come to town losers of their last three contests. Most recently, the Thunder dropped a 113-80 contest to the New Orleans Pelicans at home Thursday night.

Orlando was able to hold off Oklahoma City this past Tuesday night in a (very fun) back-and-forth affair, 118-107. The Magic shot 51 percent from the field in that contest, led by Nikola Vucevic (28 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists). Dwayne Bacon gave the Magic a huge lift as well, scoring 18 points (9-10 FGA’s) and pulling down 8 rebounds.

Evan Fournier (back spasms) left Thursday’s game against the Sixers. His status for tonight’s contest is listed as “questionable.”

Light the “Torch”

“It feels good (and not really),” Ross said after Saturday’s morning shootaround when asked about his hamstring (and whether he was concerned about re-aggravating it). “It’s simple. I’m like the Wolverine, I heal kind of quick. It (his hamstring) feels good, actually it feels really good.”

Ross first felt irritation in his right hamstring late in the Oklahoma City game on Tuesday night. The Magic held Ross out of Thursday’s 116-92 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I was doing everything in shoot-around - dunking, shooting, running - all of that,” Ross replied when asked about his availability tonight against the Thunder. “(I was able to do) typical ‘T-Ross’ stuff. Yeah, I’ll be out there tonight.”

That’s welcome news for the Magic, who will likely be short-handed against Oklahoma City as it is. Ross is averaging 21.0 points (28.0 minutes per game) on 51.8 percent shooting through four games this season.

Okeke out

Magic rookie forward Chuma Okeke, who missed all of last season recovering from an ACL injury he suffered to his left knee in college, will again be out due to an injury to his knee (also his left). He left Thursday night’s contest against the Sixers with 9:57 remaining in the fourth quarter. Team officials are calling it a “left knee bone bruise”.

The good news regarding Okeke is that an MRI revealed no structural damage to his knee, and “all ligaments remain intact”, per a release from the organization. Okeke’s return to the court will depend upon his response to treatment.

Okeke has averaged 3.0 points and 2.6 rebounds through five games for the Magic (18.2 minutes per game). Forward Gary Clark will likely fill Okeke’s minutes off the bench. Orlando is already playing without forwards Al-Farouq Aminu, James Ennis, and Jonathan Isaac.

Orlando’s third rookie

A lot of the attention surrounding Orlando’s newcomers so far this season has been focused on Okeke and point guard Cole Anthony, and rightfully so. Anthony and Okeke have been mainstays in Orlando’s rotation through the first five games of the 2020 season. But Orlando has another rookie on their roster as well.

Karim Mane (20 years old), a Canadian guard who is originally from Senegal, signed a two-way contract with the Magic after going undrafted this past November. Mane was a two-time All-Canadian awardee playing for Vanier College in Quebec from ‘17-’20. He also played for the Canadian National Team at the FIBA U-19 World Cup in Greece.

“I think what I’ve enjoyed the most is just practicing everyday (and just getting better),” Mane told reporters Saturday. “The feeling of just coming in here and playing against the best in the world every single day, that’s something you want to do if you’re a competitor.”

The 6-5 guard is expected to play regularly for the Lakeland Magic of the NBA’s G-League, but for now, he’s soaking up all he can traveling with the big club. Mane even logged his first NBA minutes Thursday night, pulling down four rebounds in 19 minutes of action.

“Basically just living out my dream,” Mane added when asked about his experience with the Magic so far. “This is something I’ve always looked forward to, and now that I’m able to live it, it’s definitely fun.”

Mane’s dream of playing professional basketball is a dream that formed relatively late in his life (compared to other players in the NBA). Soccer was always Mane’s passion growing up, a sport he continued to play until he was 16 years of age. At that point, Mane told reports, he began taking basketball seriously - playing for a competitive team in Montreal.

Of course, the Magic also have another player on their roster that hails from Canada - back-up center Khem Birch.

“He’s been a big help, as soon as I got here, he’s pretty much been on my side,” Mane told reporters of Birch. “During practice, he’s been helping me with the plays (and everything like that), so I can learn quicker. I got here before training camp started, so I got to workout with him and some of the other guys on the team, so it was a pretty easy transition having him here and helping me throughout training camp (and everything like that).”