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Magic vs. Pacers preview: Magic, Cole Anthony look to build off game-winner

Cole Anthony’s game-winner hopefully provides a confidence boost for the rookie and the Magic

Orlando Magic v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

It would have been an amazing shot under any circumstances. But Cole Anthony’s game-winner had added significance because...

1) It erased what would have been a very ugly loss

2) It snapped the Magic’s six-game losing streak

3) It was a struggling rookie who hit the shot

Perhaps that’s the moment that puts the shorthanded Magic back on the right path. Perhaps it’s the starting point for Cole Anthony to begin his run for the Rookie of the Year award. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking on both counts.

We certainly don’t want to overstate the significance of one shot that erased what would have been a disastrous loss against one of the league’s worst teams while they were missing their best player.

But for Anthony, at least, the game winner was more than just one shot. It was the latest shot in a small sample size of shots that is showing gradual improvement. Over his last three games, Anthony has made 7 of his 13 three-point attempts (53.8%). This after starting the season having made just 7 of 39 attempts (32.6%). His most recent make hopefully keeps that trend going.

“I think a shot like that can only help you,” Steve Clifford told reporters after the game. “He’s a confident guy, and I thought...he played a much more complete game.”

Anthony knows the improvement must continue, particularly in initiating the offense, continuing to find his spots and navigating pick-and-rolls at the NBA level at both ends. There was a reason he was put back on the bench just one minute after checking in midway through the fourth in Minnesota. When Clifford finally put Anthony back in with just under 1:30 left in the game, he used the opportunity to become the hero.

“I really don’t think I’m anywhere close to where I want to be,” Anthony told reporters after the game. “I think I still honestly have a long way to go. What is that 15 games now? I feel like I learned a lot and I feel like I have two times as much to learn now.”

The Magic, after finally having beating a team not named the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2021, now look to build off that win as they take on the Pacers in the final game of their six-game road trip. The Pacers, like the Magic, had continuity on their side entering the season. That changed recently in the wake of the James Harden blockbuster when they traded our old friend Victor Oladipo to Houston for Caris Levert, who is now out after a post-trade physical revealed a mass on his kidney.

They will take on Domontas Sabonis (we all know, we don’t have to say it), who last season against the Magic averaged 23.5 points (highest average among the Eastern Conference teams he faced) on 54.5% shooting. Sabonis, who has increased his scoring average from 18.5 points last season to 21.9 points so far this season, has improved his three-point frequency and efficiency. He’s now shooting 36.4% on 2.4 attempts per compared to 25.4% on 1.1 per.

Malcolm Brogdon will be a challenging cover for Anthony, as he enters averaging a team-best 22.5 points per, while again hovering around that 50/40/90 shooting split.

The Pacers, who boast a top-10 offensive rating at 111.2 points per (ninth best) and the 13th-best defensive rating at 108.8 points, will be without T.J. Warren (15.5 points) and possibly Myles Turner, who is listed as questionable.

The Magic will still be without Michael Carter-Williams, Mo Bamba, Al-Farouq Aminu, and of course, Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac.

Who: Orlando Magic (7-8) at Indiana Pacers (8-6)

When: Friday at 7 p.m.

Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse - Indiana, Indianapolis

TV: Fox Sports Florida