Professional athletes are famously known to be creatures of habit.
Well, some routines were altered early Wednesday evening as the Orlando Magic defeated the Dallas Mavericks 94-87 in a contest that was pushed forward from a 7:00 PM EST tipoff to 5:30 PM.
The change was made due to Tropical Storm Nicole, which is currently barreling towards the east coast of Florida.
Again, maybe it was the lack of routine, but the Magic were the first team this season to hold Dallas All-Star guard Luka Doncic under 30 points in a game (he finished with 24 points, 9 for 29 FGA’s).
“I’m so proud of these guys,” Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley told reporters after the game. “Their energy, their effort, their resilience to keep fighting. They did a heck of a job sticking with the gameplan, so I’m really proud of them.”
The Magic, who have been playing short-handed all season, were without their rookie phenom and leading scorer - Paolo Banchero - Wednesday against Dallas. Banchero rolled his ankle late in the game Monday night against the Houston Rockets.
Orlando was led by swingman Franz Wagner, who took on the lion’s share of the ball-handling and playmaking duties Wednesday. Wagner scored 22 points (9 for 17 FGA’s) and dished-out 6 assists.
The Magic were able to benefit from their significant size advantage over the Mavericks to begin the game, scoring 22 of their first 24 points in the paint. Unfortunately, turnovers again reared their ugly head, as Orlando coughed the ball up eight times in the opening period.
“All season honestly, but especially these last couple of games,” Wagner told reporters when asked whether attacking the painted area was an offensive focus at the beginning of the game. “That’s what our gameplan is, and I think it’s working really well. We’re getting to the rim, we’re getting fouled. I think we can really hurt some people playing that way, with our size and athleticism, and that’s for sure our gameplan.”
Dallas’ starting backcourt of Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie were extremely active and involved right from the opening tip. The duo combined to score 22 of the Mavericks’ first 32 points, getting the ball in the painted area, knocking down shots from the perimeter, and setting up one another off the dribble in drive-and-kick situations. Dinwiddie finished with a season-high 29 points to lead Dallas Wednesday.
The Mavericks, one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league so far this season, played disciplined basketball against the Magic in the first half - easily winning the turnover battle while limiting their fouls committed as well. But the Magic stay connected due to the 55 percent they shot from the field through the first two quarters.
Dallas went cold in the third quarter, allowing Orlando to cut into the deficit that had been created in the first half. The Mavericks missed 14 of their 21 field goal attempts in the period, managing to score only 20 points.
A turning point in the game came after Wagner had the ball stolen away from him on the perimeter late in the third quarter. Rather than concede the points on the other end, Orlando’s second-year forward hustled back to contest the Tim Hardaway Jr. layup attempt on the break. Wagner rebounded his opponent’s miss, brought the ball back the other way, and found Wendell Carter Jr. in the right corner for a three-point field goal.
Jalen Suggs asserted himself coming out of the break as well, scoring 9 of his 12 points in the third.
Terrence Ross energized the home crowd with a driving up-and-under layup in the paint (plus the foul) that gave the Magic a lead with just under six minutes remaining in the game. Following two missed Doncic free throws on the following possession, Chuma Okeke buried a corner three-point attempt to create a cushion Orlando would not relinquish.
Okeke was also the hero down the stretch on the defensive end, drawing the assignment of trying to slow down Doncic.
“I thought he did a great job,” Mosley said of Okeke’s defensive efforts. “We talk about his versatility, being able to guard multiple positions. And when he needed to stay on (Luka), he did a great job staying on his body, showing his hands the entire time, trying not to grab and reach. I think he did a very good job.”
The Magic were able to hold the Mavericks to 33 points in the second half, fueled by hustle plays made all over the floor - diving for loose balls, chasing down fast break layup attempts, and taking charges. Of course, it helped that Dallas went 5 for 18 from the floor (27.7 percent) in the fourth quarter as well.
Despite only turning the ball over four times in the entire game, Dallas shot 32 for 85 from the field (37.6 percent), 11 for 42 from beyond the arc (26.2 percent), and 12 for 19 (63.2 percent) from the free throw line. All of those misses led to the Magic holding a 49-29 advantage over the Mavericks on the boards.
Carter Jr. recorded his team-leading fifth double-double, scoring 13 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
“It felt great,” Mosley replied when asked after the game about the crowd energy inside the Amway Center Wednesday, despite the impending weather. “That energy lifted them up. For the fans to come out in these circumstances, and for our guys to respond in these circumstances, it’s just a testament about our guys and who they are.”
The Magic are now 2-2 on their lengthy homestand, with games still to be played against Charlotte, Minnesota, and the Phoenix Suns - who come to town Friday night.