The Magic got reminders of both the importance and the unpredictability of the NBA Draft Lottery during Thursday’s game.
At one end was Zion Williamson, the top overall pick in the 2019 draft who already is MVP caliber and one of the ultimate lottery payoffs. At the other was Mo Bamba, the Magic’s most recent lottery pick who got the second start of his career and struggled at times to show that he belonged.
The Pelicans got some lottery luck when it was most needed, something the Magic hope to be granted in the near future. With the shorthanded Magic’s ugly performance on Thursday, they moved one game closer to improving their 2021 lottery odds after being unable to get stops against Zion or any of his Pelicans teammates, en route to a 135-100 loss.
It wasn’t an all that unexpected of a rout with the Magic playing without Terrence Ross, James Ennis, Michael Carter-Williams, Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr., who was a late scratch with a sore ankle. Even when Carter was thought to be available, it was going to be a difficult matchup on a night when the Magic were going to need big bodies in the paint against the Pelicans’ frontcourt.
In Carter’s place, Bamba struggled early, allowing Steven Adams to have his way inside at one end and going just 1-for-7 in the first quarter at the other. After dunks by Adams on consecutive possessions, Bamba converted a putback plus the foul for his first points of the night, pulling the Magic within 19-17 with 4:15 left in the first.
The Pelicans scored 16 points in the paint in the opening quarter, shooting 48 percent from the field. Brandon Ingram got off to a quick start, scoring 12 points in the first. Zion, playing against Orlando for the first time in his career after missing the first three scheduled games, scored five first-quarter points, including a layup just before the buzzer to give the Pelicans a 29-27 lead.
The Magic defense collapsed in the second as they allowed 26 points in the paint. That was one more point than the Magic scored all together in the second, as the Pelicans dropped 45 points in the second to take a 74-52 lead into the half. Zion had 16 in the quarter on 6-for-8 shooting, throwing down an alley oop from Lonzo Ball with seconds remaining. Eric Bledsoe, a 34 percent shooter from deep, made all four of his three-point attempts in the half for 12 points, and Adams exceeded his per game averages (7.8 points, 9.0 rebounds) in the first half with 12 points and 9 rebounds before sitting out the second half with an injury.
The hot shooting for the Pelicans continued in the third as their lead grew to a many as…<checks notes>…42 points. The shorthanded Magic, who shot 29 percent in the quarter, simply couldn’t generate enough offense to keep the score respectable.
Ingram had 29 points to lead the Pelicans, who shot 55.6 percent from the field and outscored the Magic 66-34 in the paint. Zion finished with 23 points in 23 minutes, going 9-for-12 from the field.
Bamba, statistically at least, had a decent performance with 17 points and 12 rebounds. But he shot just 6-for-15 from the field, including 2 of 7 from three. Defensively, he made some strong rotations to contest shots, he simply can’t body up against players who outmuscle him like Adams.
The Magic shot just 36.7 percent and had only 13 assists in the game. Chuma Okeke had the worst shooting performance of his young career, going just 1-for-12 from the field for 4 points. Devin Cannady took advantage of the short bench and increased opportunity by scoring 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting. But the lone player highlighted by Steve Clifford after the game was Chasson Randle, who had 10 points and 4 assists, and per Clifford “defended on every trip, the only guy.”
"We had guys out there worrying about numbers," Steve Clifford.— Bally Sports Florida: Magic (@BallyMagic) April 23, 2021
Coach said on a night like this, nobody got better except for Chasson Randle who in his opinion, followed the game plan and fought on every defensive possession. #MagicTogether #NBA pic.twitter.com/mXn1IYYfxs
“We had guys out there worrying about numbers who actually on the stat sheet, as I look at it, look ok and were terrible,” Clifford said. “Terrible. Not bad, terrible.”
The loss was the fourth straight for the Magic, who drop to 18-41 on the season. They host the Pacers on Sunday.