The Minnesota Timberwolves have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA since the All-Star break, winners of seven of their previous eight.
They came into the Amway Center Friday night riding a six-game winning streak. But they will leave Orlando with a new (and different) kind of streak.
The Magic rode a wave of second half momentum on their way to a 118-110 home victory over the Timberwolves. After missing nine of their first ten three-point field goals, Orlando finished the game shooting 16 for 40 from beyond the arc (40.0 percent).
“Our fans are just fantastic,” Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley told reporters after the game. “They willed us in this one, they got us going. Pushed us through after that first quarter when we started off a little sluggish. We got a little momentum and they (the fans) helped carry us through. They’ve been fantastic on these homestands.”
Mo Bamba led the way with 27 points (10-15 FGA’s, 5-8 3PTA’s) and 12 rebounds. Wendell Carter Jr. added 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Friday marked the first time since 2018 that the Magic had a pair of players post 20-10 in the same game (last time, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic on December 30th, 2018 against Detroit).
Orlando outscored Minnesota 73-57 across the second and third quarters.
The Timberwolves started the game red hot from beyond the arc, hitting five three-point field goal attempts within the game’s first three minutes - three of those coming from veteran guard Patrick Beverely. The only person who could slow down Beverely early on was himself, as he headed to the bench after picking up three fouls within the first four minutes of the contest.
The tenth-year point guard would not return to the game. According to team officials, Beverley suffered an ear contusion.
Minnesota opened up a double-digit lead by knocking-down seven three-point field goals in the first quarter, while Orlando couldn’t buy a bucket. The Magic shot 30.4 percent from the floor (7-23 FGA’s) in the first, including an ice cold 1 for 10 from beyond the arc through the game’s first twelve minutes.
Towns picked up his third foul with just 23.6 seconds left in the opening period, which sidelined him for most of the remainder of the first half.
Coach Mosley opted to close out Wednesday’s game in New Orleans with his second unit, and it was his bench that got his team going Friday night as well.
Markelle Fultz scored six points and recorded three assists in his first nine minute stint of action in the first half. Fultz was able to get in the lane, create off the dribble, get out in transition, and effectively control the pace of play.
Big man Moritz Wagner was extremely active (again) in the first half, scoring 11 of his 18 points in just eight minutes across the first and second quarters.
Orlando’s starters were much more effective when they returned to the floor in the second quarter. Bamba scored 15 points in the first half (5-7 FGA’s, 3-3 3PTA’s), including eight points in the second quarter.
The Magic shot themselves back into the game, converting 11 of their 23 field goals in the second quarter - seven of those made field goals coming from beyond the arc (7 for 12, 58% on three-point attempts in the second).
After trailing by as many as 18 points in the first half, Orlando was able to cut Minnesota’s lead at the half to just five points.
Both teams traded body blows to begin the second half, combining to make ten three-point field goals within the first six minutes of the third quarter.
Carter Jr. came alive in the third, scoring eight of Orlando’s first ten points in the second half. The Magic big man scored 10 of his 20 points in the period.
But thanks to D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards, the Magic were unable to cut into Minnesota’s lead.
That is, until Orlando closed the third quarter on a 15-4 run. Momentum completely swung in the home team’s favor when Fultz returned to the floor - converting a technical free throw, knocking-down two more free throws, and then finishing a layup on the break to give the Magic their first lead of the game.
“Our adjustment was just to get them off the three-point line, make them make tough two’s,” Fultz told reporters after the game. “If they got to the rim with our ‘bigs’ contesting, we were going to live with that. We did a good job of that, we did a good job of containing their run, fighting back, and running them off the (three-point) line. I think that was what got us the win.”
The Magic posted eight of the first ten points scored in the fourth quarter, helping push their lead to double-digits, again behind the strong play of duo Fultz and M. Wagner.
Fultz exited the game with 8:54 left in the fourth quarter after reaching his assumed minutes limit of 17-19 minutes. The former first overall pick was a +13 in 18 minutes Friday (14 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds).
“He’s been through a lot, and he’s fought back from a lot,” Bamba said after the game when asked about Fultz’s return to the team. “To see him just go out there and flourish, just play the game that he loves, and do it with such a joy. I keep saying this, but it’s really contagious.”
As soon as Fultz headed to the bench, Orlando’s lead started to slip away. Minnesota scored six straight points before rookie Franz Wagner hit a critical runner in the lane to stop the bleeding.
At that point, it was a one possession game with just 3:03 remaining. The Magic would go on to score seven of the game’s final nine points.
Bamba’s three-point field goal with just over a minute remaining, followed by a Bamba dunk off a lob from fellow-big Carter Jr., put the game away.
The Magic enjoyed an advantage in two key areas Friday - on the glass, and at the free throw line. Orlando held Minnesota to just five total offensive rebounds, won the overall rebounding battle (49-37), and forced the Timberwolves into committing 24 personal fouls.
Friday marked a second-consecutive win for the Magic, and another huge next step in their overall development as a team. Orlando is 5-3 since the All-Star break, three of those wins coming on their home floor.
“Being able to have the support of our fans, and these guys being in a rythm and being able to practice (at home), I think it’s huge for us down the stretch,” Mosley added when asked about the importance of playing well at home to close out the remainder of the regular season.
Orlando’s next opportunity is in fact at home, Sunday night against the visiting Philadelphia 76ers. Game-time is set for 6:00 PM EST.