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Hawks 125, Magic 108: Markelle Fultz returns but Magic’s defensive struggles continue

The Magic, playing without Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba, struggled to protect the paint and rebound

Atlanta Hawks v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

The Magic finally got some of their guards back. But they really could have used a center.

On a night Markelle Fultz made his season debut and Cole Anthony returned from a 16-game absence, the Magic’s defensive struggles continued as they were dominated inside and on the boards in a 125-108 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Fultz, who missed the first 21 games of the season with a fractured toe, went right to work by backing down Dejounte Murray in the post and hitting a baby hook in the paint on his first shot attempt of the game.

He also showed early hustle, stripping the ball and diving to the court to get possession and create a transition opportunity for the Magic.

Fultz played the first 4:30 of the quarter before being replaced by Anthony, who returned from an oblique injury that cost him 16 games. Terrence Ross also returned after a brief absence due to an illness and hit both of the Magic’s three-pointers in the opening quarter.

The Magic shot 50 percent from the field in the first, with Fultz knocking down a midrange pull-up when he checked back in. But they allowed the Hawks to shoot 64 percent, despite Atlanta missing all six of their attempts from deep. The Hawks shot 16 of 19 on two-point field goals and scored 28 points in the paint in the first. That was led by Clint Capela, who had 12 in the quarter on 6-for-6 shooting to help Atlanta open a 38-27 lead after one.

Fultz and Anthony played alongside one another - along with Gary Harris, Paolo Banchero and Bol Bol - for one stretch in the second quarter as Mosley experimented with his newfound backcourt depth.

But the Magic offense struggled throughout the second as the Atlanta lead grew to as many as 21. While the Magic shot 38 percent in the quarter, the Hawks’ efficient shooting continued and they began to connect from downtown. The Hawks led 70-50 at the half after shooting 58 percent, led by Trae Young’s first-half double-double of 15 points and 10 assists.

Very little changed in the third, as the Hawks continued to overwhelm the Magic inside (11-for-15) and struggle from the outside (1-for-11). Young scored 15 points in the quarter and the Hawks entered the fourth with a 100-76 lead.

The Magic got within 15 in the fourth but no closer.

Young finished with 30 points and 14 assists, while Murray added 27 points and six assists. Capela had 20 points on 9-fo-10 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds. The Hawks shot 69.4 percent inside the arc in the game (43-for-62) and outrebounded the Magic 49-33, as Orlando allowed 14 offensive rebounds.

Franz Wagner led the Magic with 22 points and Paolo Banchero added 20 points and five assists. Quiet night for Bol Bol, who got the start at center and had six points and five rebounds in 27 minutes.

Fultz finished with eight points on 3-for-8 shooting and four assists in 17 minutes. Anthony had 11 points on 3-for-7 shooting in 24 minutes. Ross had 12 points, including this dunk...

The Magic got their guards back but then lost another, a give-and-take injury trend with this team, as Gary Harris didn’t play in the second half due to hamstring tightness.

We’ll see who is back on the court Friday when a Magic team that has now lost six straight begins a difficult road back-to-back against the Cavs before facing the Raptors on Saturday.