The Magic got Al-Farouq Aminu back for the first time since 2019.
And it lasted all of five minutes before he had to exit. It’s just that kind of a season for the injury-ravaged Orlando Magic.
And if that brief return wasn’t bad enough, Cole Anthony also exited early after suffering a shoulder strain. So, if you are keeping track at home, the Magic were left without their starting point guard (Markelle Fultz), their backup point guard (Cole Anthony), their third-string point guard (Michael Carter-Williams), their starting shooting guard (Evan Fournier), their starting small forward (Aaron Gordon), their backup small forward (Al-Farouq Aminu), and their starting power forward (Jonathan Isaac).
What was left of the Magic still kept a potent offensive team mostly in check, played hard and fought until the end, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the lost talent as Orlando fell to the Blazers, 106-97.
“We competed hard. We had good intent. We had good purpose of play. And our defense was good against a terrific offensive team,” Steve Clifford told reporters after the game. “So there were definitely things we can build on.”
The Blazers take and make more threes than just about any team in the NBA, and that showed very early in this one as they hit 5 of 12 attempts in the first quarter. Gary Trent Jr. hit a pair of threes and led the way with 8 points in the first as the Blazers orchestrated a 13-2 run that built a 15-point lead. The Magic were held to 36 percent shooting in the first, missing all six of their three-point attempts, and trailed 31-19 after the first.
The Blazers went up by 17 in the second after Trent Jr. hit another three for a 45-28 lead with 6:12 left in the half. Nikola Vucevic responded with a three of his own for the start of what would be a strong finish to the quarter for the Magic. Terrence Ross scored nine of the Magic’s final 10 points of the quarter during a 15-5 run, capped by a floater with 1.5 seconds left in the half to send the Magic into the break trailing just 50-43.
The Magic shot just 37% in the first half, including 3-for-13 from deep. Ross had 13 and Vucevic added 10 to lead the Magic. The other four starters combined to go 4-for-17 in the half.
Trent Jr. had 15 points at the half to lead the Blazers, who built their lead despite shooting worse than the Magic in the half (35.3%). They connected on just 3 of 13 three-point attempts in the second quarter, finishing the half 8-for-25 (32%). Lillard, who David Steele pointed out has averaged more points against the Magic since the 2016-2017 season (33.1) than anyone other than James Harden (33.4), struggled from the field in the half and was held to a very quiet 9 points on 2-for-9 shooting.
More concerning was Anthony exiting in the second quarter after attempting a jumper and making minor contact with Enes Kanter. The Magic announced that Anthony would not return due to a right shoulder strain. More surprisingly, the team announced that Aminu, who played five minutes in his first game since suffering a torn meniscus in November of 2019, also wouldn’t return due to “right knee injury management” after Clifford said prior to the game he would play in both halves.
So, the Magic opened the third with Frank Mason at point guard, and just four players on their bench (Terrence Ross, Khem Birch, Chuma Okeke and Mo Bamba).
Lillard, after that quiet first half, scored 18 points in the third quarter as he went 3-for-4 from three. The Blazers overall went 7 of 12 from deep in the quarter, with Anfernee Simons also connecting on 3 of 4 attempts in the quarter. The Magic kept pace to a degree by shooting nearly 60 percent in the quarter, with Ennis and Vucevic scoring nine points each, but Orlando trailed 84-73 heading into the fourth.
James Ennis opened the fourth with a three to get the Magic back within single digits at 84-76, but that was as close as Orlando would get. Carmelo Anthony turned into Denver-Melo in the fourth, getting Magic defenders to bite on the pump fake and scoring 11 straight Blazer points over a 2:30 stretch early in the fourth to help put Portland comfortably ahead for good.
Credit to the shorthanded Magic for keeping it somewhat close at times and fighting hard throughout, particularly Vucevic, who Steve Clifford for some reason left in for the entire second half (while Mo Bamba, coming off his best performance of the season got a DNP). Vooch finished with 27 points and 15 rebounds in 41 minutes, just the third time this season Vucevic eclipsed the 40-minute mark. Ross added 22 points and Ennis has 16 for the Magic, who shot 42% and made 11 of 35 three-point attempts. Mason finished with 11 points and 4 assists. Gary Clark was held scoreless for the second time in three games and has scored a grand total of 6 points on 2-for-14 shooting in four games since entering the starting lineup in place of Aaron Gordon.
Lillard, after scoring 9 points in the first half, finished with 36 points, making all 13 of his free throw attempts. Melo ended up with a season-high 23 points, hitting 5 of 9 attempts from deep for a Blazers team that went 18-for-46 overall.
Clifford didn’t have an update on Anthony after the game. He said Aminu “had to step out of the game because his hamstring was tight.”
It was the Magic’s 14th loss in 17 games. Their challenging four-game West Coast trip continues on Thursday against Golden State. Hopefully Cole Anthony’s injury isn’t serious and the Magic have a few more healthy bodies for that one.