Fresh off a near-40 point beatdown and reeling after five consecutive losses, the hope was that the Magic would come out and deliver a more professional and prideful performance. Instead the homestand came to a crashing conclusion, the team’s fifth double-digit loss in their last six outings.
Orlando actually got off to a fast start behind the play of Wendell Carter Jr., opening up a 9-3 lead through the game’s first few minutes. The big man actually ended up with 8 of the Magic’s first 11 points, getting his account started with a mid-range jumper before moving inside to do some work closer to the hoop. He looked good, flashing equal parts footwork and strength as he trapped his direct matchup, Jakob Poeltl, in a blender.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t getting much offensive support from his teammates. Outside of a James Ennis triple and a clunky floater from Dwayne Bacon the Magic were entirely frigid, combining to make just 2 of their first 18 attempts from the floor. This inaccuracy was exacerbated by a pair of Cole Anthony turnovers, as well as an inattentive possession that forced the point guard to fling up a wild attempt as the shot clock expired. Add to that his three quick fouls and it was a quarter to forget for Orlando’s young rookie.
It was an inexorable stretch of futility for the Magic, who went scoreless for seven entire minutes — including four missed free throws by Michael Carter Williams — as the Spurs steadily built a double digit lead. Late in the quarter Terrence Ross managed to draw a shooting foul on a three-point attempt that temporarily extracted the team from their offensive quagmire, connecting on a trio of free throws to give the Magic their only points in the back half of the period. When the siren sounded it was 28-16 in San Antonio’s favor, Orlando shooting just 6 of 26 (23.1%) across the game’s opening twelve minutes.
Things didn’t really get any better during the second quarter. Orlando went 2 of 7 with a pair of turnovers through the first six minutes, spotting the Spurs another ten points in the period and allowing them to double the Magic up, 44-22 as the teams went to a timeout. Mo Bamba aggravating his existing hip injury meant the debut of Robert Franks, but it was just another element that added to the obvious discombobulation of the side. Ineffective help defense, stagnant offense and sloppy execution emphasized just how out of sync the side was.
Thankfully Orlando was able to simplify things during the closing minutes of the half, with Anthony and Bacon aggressively attacking the painted area and converting such forays into either finishes at the lane or clean jump shots for teammates. Okeke got in on the act with a tough bucket of his own, but the team’s porous defense meant that little ground was ultimately gained. San Antonio continued to score with alarming regularity, closing the half with a sizable 60-37 advantage.
Some scoring touch returned for the Magic in the third, with the team generating points on six of their first ten possessions in the quarter. However, the defense was offering little to no meaningful resistance, San Antonio’s backcourt continuing to score without impunity against an Orlando side that was routinely a step too slow. The teams largely traded baskets throughout the period, the Spurs consistently doing what they needed to ensure that the game never developed into a legitimate contest. There were some flashes of positivity — RJ Hampton blurring coast to coast, a strong Bacon finish, smooth Okeke footwork in the post — but by this point it was a game without sting. When the quarter closed it was a 28 deficit facing the Magic, down 89-61 with twelve minutes to play.
The game ultimately limped towards a finish in the fourth quarter, with little worth writing home about as both sides played out the string. The Spurs cleared their bench, the Magic gave the young guys some extra minutes. Time, as it does, relentlessly marched on and eventually the scoreboard contained no more seconds. Utah put up 120 points, Orlando 97. Game over.
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: Orlando’s Earned Edition uniforms — they really do look great.
Second star: Wendell Carter Jr. — was blistering during the game’s opening minutes and played with effort throughout, finishing with one of the team’s few encouraging box score tallies. 13 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and a steal to lead the Magic.
Third star: Cole Anthony — settled down after a sloppy opening quarter, ultimately finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. More importantly, was frequently Orlando’s most reliable contributor to purposeful offense.
The best thing that can be said about Orlando’s performance tonight is that it is now over. That now makes for six losses on the trot as the team heads into a reunion showdown with Nikola Vucevic and the Bulls on Wednesday. See you then.