Unlike other lottery contenders on Tuesday night<cough...OKC and Detroit...cough>, the Magic didn’t play like a tanking team.
They did lose, and they struggled to string together made shots, but they played hard, they frustrated the Bucks with some scrappy defense, and they refused to go quietly in a 114-102 loss.
It was Orlando’s fourth straight loss, dropping their record to 21-48. That is tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for fourth worst record in the league. Both trail the 21-49 Thunder which blew a 14-point lead in a loss to the Kings to claim the third worst record. With the Timberwolves defeating the Pistons, they now sit a full game “behind” the Magic and Cavs for the fourth best record.
It’s certainly going to be an interesting few days with a three-team race between the Magic, Thunder and Cavs.
Orlando got Wendell Carter Jr. back for this one, but were without Mo Bamba, who had a non-COVID illness. Steve Clifford also announced that Chuma Okeke will not return this season because of his ankle sprain, bringing an end to what was a very encouraging rookie season.
Shorthanded as always, the Magic still fought against one of the league’s elite, recovering from some early sloppy play. The Magic had five turnovers in the first quarter, including a pair in the final minute of the quarter that led to a quick 6-0 Bucks run as they finished the quarter with a 29-22 lead.
The Bucks’ lead reached double figures in the second following threes by Pat Connaughton and Brook Lopez to make it 47-32 with 5:57 remaining in the half. The Magic answered with an 8-2 run to pull back within single digits. After the Bucks pushed the lead back to 15, Cole Anthony and Gary Harris hit threes and Moe Wagner converted a layup off a feed from R.J. Hampton to help the Magic cut the deficit to 59-48 going into the half.
The Bucks maintained their double-digit lead for the bulk of the third, until the Magic closed the quarter on an 8-2 run, highlighted by a three from Sindarius Thornwell, to make it 79-71 after three.
The Magic continued to have a response each time the Bucks attempted to pull away, with Wendell Carter Jr. pulling Orlando within seven on a layup that made it 94-87 with 6:43remaining. But that was as close as the Magic would get as the Bucks went on a 7-0 run. Cole Anthony scored seven points over the final 4:30 but Orlando never threatened.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 27 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Bucks, who had all five starters in double figures as they continue to chase the Nets for the two seed.
The Magic shot just 41.5 percent, but also held the Bucks and their top-five offense to 42.6 percent shooting. Anthony led Orlando with 18 points on 8-for-16 shooting, but recorded zero assists and four turnovers in 30 minutes. Wagner had 17 points and 13 rebounds for his third career double-double. Carter Jr., after missing the previous three games with an eye injury, had 8 points, 14 rebounds and 4 assists. R.J. Hampton added 11 points and 5 assists.
Orlando now heads to Atlanta to take on a Hawks team still battling for playoff positioning. After that is a two-game set in Philadelphia to face a Sixers team that might be resting its players if they have the top seed secured by then.