So many moments led to Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s game-tying free throw rimming out for the Pelicans to ensure an Orlando Magic win on Thursday night. All of the trades, roster moves, hope, and heartbreak led to this result. The Magic are now 2-1 with this new roster and are riding the double-edged sword of winning with a group of young, promising players in a season that may already be lost.
Both the Magic and Pelicans took the floor shorthanded beyond belief on Thursday, with the Pelicans’ All-Stars Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram both late scratches, in addition to the host of familiar injuries plaguing the Magic. Both teams had no business believing in themselves, but they both fought like hell – to the point that a single free throw in overtime decided the result.
There were many bright spots for Orlando, but the brightest was unquestionably Wendell Carter Jr. The young center that Chicago gave up on just a week ago may have had his best game ever – scoring 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting while grabbing a team-high eight rebounds for the Magic. Though the Pels’ offensive leaders were gone, their defensive anchor in Steven Adams was as healthy as ever, and Carter made easy work of him en route to a win.
The youth movement was certainly the story going into tonight’s matchup, and despite a relatively quiet evening for budding star forward Chuma Okeke, six of the nine Orlando players that saw real minutes tonight scored in double figures. That contrast was felt especially by a New Orleans squad that usually leans so heavily on two creators. Alexander-Walker scored 31 for the Pels, but their next-best option was James Johnson, who inexplicably scored 17 in his first game action as a Pelican.
It felt like the reinforcements kept coming for Orlando, and nearly every player had their time to shine. Terrence Ross, who finished with 19 points, made one of his signature clutch shots with a defender draped all over him. R.J. Hampton was a blur on both ends and added a much-needed spark to the depleted bench unit. Okeke, whose shot wasn’t falling, made an incredible steal leading to a transition dunk in overtime that ultimately would be the difference.
The Magic are on a 2-game win streak with both wins coming on opposing floors against Western Conference teams vying for the playoffs. Though a huge segment of Magic fans would contend that losing would be more beneficial, it’s really hard to root against these young, fun players right now.