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Pelicans 110, Magic 104: Reinforcements return but the Magic can’t stop Brandon Ingram

The Magic fought until the end, but the early hole they dug was ultimately too much to overcome

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Orlando Magic Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Riding high after an unexpected two-game winning streak, the injury and illness ravaged Magic were boosted in tonight’s tilt by the timely returns of Cole Anthony and Wendell Carter Jr. Ultimately, however, it wasn’t enough, the team falling short in a spirited comeback effort as they went down to the Pelicans by six points.

Inaccurate shooting by the Magic helped propel the Pelicans to an early 12-4 advantage, with every Orlando player missing at least one shoot across the game’s opening four minutes. However, it wasn’t long before Gary Harris was able to swing the momentum; first Cole Anthony found him streaking in transition for an easy flush. Then, on back-to-back possessions Orlando’s newly returned point guard found the veteran wing spotting up on the perimeter, a pair of made threes locking the score up at 12 apiece in the early going.

Unfortunately things started to gum up for the Magic at this point, the team struggling through a five-minute stretch that featured only a pair of short hooks by Robin Lopez. Although toiling hard on defense the side was unable to contain some of the Pelicans playmakers, with Brandon Ingram and Herbert Jones adding to their personal tallies, outside shooters finding a rhythm, and Willy Hernangomez causing problems for Orlando on the offensive glass. It coalesced into a 20-5 run for New Orleans, the Magic falling behind by double figures as they went to the first break trailing 32-17.

The bottom of the net remained elusive for the Magic across the opening minutes of the second, the team shooting just 1-9 from the field in the first five minutes and failing to find much space against the tightly packed New Orleans zone defense. Anthony and Wendell Carter Jr. were able to offset this inaccuracy with some timely foul-drawing, though, including a trio earned by Cole on a long-range attempt. These moments ultimately allowed the Magic to stay in touch, cutting the margin to 11 when Admiral Schofield finished an energetic sequence sparked by his own solid defense at the other end.

A Gary Harris floater from the mid-range briefly brought Orlando back within single digits, but the Pelicans steadied behind the combination of interior physicality and accurate outside shooting. The zone continued to flummox the Magic, with little in the way of dribble penetration meaning that shot attempts were either tightly contested or taken under shot clock duress. These difficulties were compounded by some inattentive turnovers, fueling opportunities for New Orleans to steadily increase their advantage. The deficit swelled to as many as 19 at one point, before a late 5-0 push by the Magic brought it back to a more manageable dozen. They would enter the main break trailing 55-43.

15 points to Harris was the primary reason that Orlando was still sniffing around despite 34.1% shooting as a team. He was 6-9 from the floor, including a perfect 3-3 from deep on some timely makes. He was supported on the stat sheet by Anthony’s 8 points and 7 assists, although the point guard was shooting just 1-7 from the field as he returned from his stint on the sidelines. And while he wasn’t the primary option like he had been for some of the more depleted recent lineups, Franz Wagner was still popping up in a number of places for the Magic, with 3 points, 3 rebounds an assist and 2 blocks speaking to his effort at both ends.

The third opened with an Ingram showcase, the rangy forward scoring 8 straight for the Pelicans and looking very comfortable in doing so. Both Wagner and Chuma Okeke failed to slow him down when directly matched up, necessitating an early time out as the team searched for an adjustment that might stem the flow. It didn’t work, the Pelican drilling another mid-ranger on his next chance and then drawing a foul on his following shot attempt, moving to 27 on the night with plenty of time still to play and propelling New Orleans to an 18 point advantage.

With the game threatening to slip away, the Magic got much-needed triples from Schofield and Carter Jr. on back-to-back possessions, slicing the deficit to an even dozen. Harris was even able to force an Ingram miss during the sequence, playing some physical defense to jostle the forward away from his favored spot in the middle of the floor. Another rapid 7-0 burst after a Pelicans’ triple pulled the Magic within 8, before Wagner exploded for 6 advantageous points in transition and on drives. Carter Jr. then calmly sank a pair of free throws on the next possession to bring Orlando back within a basket, now down just 73-70.

Looking for a basket to stabilize the Pelicans went straight back to Ingram, who delivered off a nice ATO sequence. For the Magic the Wagner show continued, the rookie forward first finding Harris for a wide open corner three that just bounced long and then getting himself to the line for a pair of freebies after the team scooped up the offensive board. The teams traded buckets closer to the hoop on the next few possessions, before an unfortunate four-point sequence helped New Orleans re-establish a 7-point buffer. It might have been more, if not for a huge Freddie Gillespie rejection at the rim and one final streaking layup for Wagner. Orlando would enter the fourth down just 83-78 and in with a chance.

As they did in the first half the primarily bench unit struggled to open the fourth, playing with energy but a lack of offensive fluency hurting the team’s ability to close the gap. Thankfully the Pelicans weren’t much better, adding just 4 to their advantage before many of the starters for both teams re-entered the contest.

An Anthony step-through with six minutes to play brought them two closer, before Harris got another two-pointer to go that reduced the margin to just 5. Anthony plucked an errant Ingram pass on the next possession to generate a foul-drawing sequence for WCJ at the other end, which the big man followed up with a stifling swat as he recovered defensively after sinking the pair. This brought the Magic within a single basket, but three-point makes by Josh Hart on consecutive possessions helped New Orleans re-establish the ascendancy at 99-90.

Orlando refused to wave the flag, rattling off 7 straight to again reduce the margin to just a single bucket. Anthony was instrumental, scoring 6 straight for the Magic regardless of the defender the opposition assigned to him. New Orleans countered with another deep three and yet another mid-range jumper by Ingram, eventually extending the gap to 7 on a pair of free throws to Hart. A late Hassani Gravett triple threatened to make things interesting, but the Pelicans ultimately iced things at the line as they closed the Magic out 110-104.

Orlando’s three stars

Hockey is a pretty great sport, so I thought I would steal one of its best little touches for my own game analysis: the three stars. Here is who caught my eye tonight.

First star: Cole Anthony — really warmed up the longer this one went on, almost single-handedly willing the Magic to an unexpected comeback. Finished with 22 points (on 7-16 shooting), 11 assists and 5 rebounds, getting to the line a team-high 9 times in setting an aggressive tone.

Second star: Franz Wagner — bitterly cold in the first half, the rookie set a team record with 17 3rd quarter points that turned this one into a contest. Finished with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks.

Third star: Gary Harris — the first half rock kept the team within shouting distance with some sweet shooting. 22 points on 9-14 from the field, including 4-5 from deep.

The loss drops the Magic to 7-26 on the season as they head into a short Christmas break. They’ll be back in action on Sunday against state rivals, Miami.