The Orlando Magic needed a point guard. Any point guard.
Enter the savior, Michael Carter-Williams.
MCW returned to the lineup for the first time since Jan. 4, and, as the only healthy point guard on the roster with Cole Anthony and Frank Mason both out with injuries, he got the start despite being on a minutes restriction.
That minutes restriction was lifted out of necessity in the second half when the Magic suffered yet another injury, this time losing James Ennis to a groin strain. Yes, seriously.
But in all honesty, with the way Nikola Vucevic played, it probably didn’t matter much who was on the court with him. Plus the Kings were without their own point guard, De’Aaron Fox, as well as Marvin Bagley.
Vooch opened the game by hitting a three, an encouraging sign after struggling with his shot in the Magic’s loss to Golden State and a sign of the efficiency to come in this outing. He went on to hit 7 of 9 shots and scored 16 points in the first quarter. The Magic shot 52 percent in what was a back and forth first quarter that ended with the two teams tied at 33.
A 10-0 Kings run early in the second quarter was stopped by none other than Mo Bamba, whose tip-in brought the Magic within 46-42 with 8:11 left in the half. Bamba, after getting just seven minutes with the Magic down to eighth available players on Thursday, played eight minutes in the second quarter. He struggled at times on the offensive end, but did knock down a corner three and set some quality screens. He also earned some points with Steve Clifford by drawing a charge on Hassan Whiteside, and then by making up for a sloppy turnover at one end of the court by hustling back on defense and diving to the floor to corral the loose ball to regain possession.
The Magic continued knocking down their shots from the outside, hitting 5 of 8 attempts in the quarter, led by Ross who drained a pair and had 8 points in the second. Vucevic had 23 points at the half, shooting 10-for-13 from the field, to send the Magic into the break with a 64-59 lead. While the Magic shot over 52 percent in the half, the Kings topped them, shooting 54.8 percent. Tyrese Haliburton led the way with 12 first-half points.
MCW opened the second half in attack mode, scoring 10 points in the opening 2:41 of the third, highlighted by a pair of drives that resulted in three-point plays. The second and-one capped a 12-3 Magic run that increased their lead to 76-64. The Magic lead grew to as many as 20 following back-to-back threes by Carter-Williams and Vucevic that made it 92-72. Carter-Williams scored 15 points in the third quarter, hitting 5 of his 7 shot attempts.
It wasn’t all good news for the Magic in the third as the injury bug bit them for the umpteenth time this season.
This time it was Ennis who pulled up lame while pushing the ball down court and had to exit the game. Ennis, who escaped injury just three minutes into the game when he landed on the foot of a defender on a three-point attempt, walked gingerly back to the locker room and the Magic soon announced that he would not return due to a strained right groin, leaving the Magic down to the minimum eight players for the second straight game.
The Kings then went on a 9-0 run that cut the Magic lead to single digits at 95-86 with two minutes left in the third.
The Magic led by 10 going into the fourth, and pushed it to 14 when Vooch hit his career-high-tying sixth three of the game to make it 105-91. Vucevic then became playmaker for a stretch, assisting out of the double-team on three consecutive possessions, two of which resulted in dunks by Khem Birch as the lead increased to 18.
Vooch then drained a fadeaway to hit the 40-point milestone for the third time in his career, and second time in a week.
The Kings cut it to single-digits with just over a minute remaining before dunks by MCW and Vooch sealed it.
Vucevic finished with 42 points, one shy of the career-high 43 he scored last Friday, on 17-for-22 shooting, including 6 of 8 from three. He also grabbed nine rebounds and dished out four assists.
“He made all the big passes, the big plays,” Steve Clifford told reporters after the game. “He’s playing at an incredibly high level every night.”
Carter-Williams, who entered on what was supposed to be a strict minutes restriction, ended up playing 27 minutes, tallying 21 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds.
“Just having Mike on the floor was a plus,” Clifford said. “We played from ahead because of the stretch he played in the second quarter. It was a huge plus to have him back.”
Ross added 18 points, going 4-for-10 from three as the Magic overall knocked down 15 of 34 attempts from deep.
The Kings had seven players in double figures, led by Buddy Hield, who had 19.
It was an impressive win for a Magic team playing shorthanded on the second night of a back-to-back. The Magic, who snapped a three-game losing streak, close out their four-game West Coast trip in Phoenix on Sunday night.