It will be considered the biggest loss of the season for the Orlando Magic.
Facing an Oklahoma City Thunder team that had lost 10 straight games and was threatening to bump the Magic from the league’s bottom three in the draft lottery standings, Orlando matched OKC move for move in what became a tanking chess match.
The Thunder sat Shai Gilgeous-Alexander against the Magic for the second time in three games, so Wendell Carter Jr. got the night off to nurse wrist and ankle sprains. Already without Jalen Suggs and Markelle Fultz, Orlando veterans Terrence Ross and Gary Harris got DNPs. Playing heavy minutes were the likes of Admiral Schofield, Ignas Brazdeikis and Jeff Dowtin, who checked in midway through the first and went on to play 30 minutes before the ink on his 10-day contract was even dry.
That led to the Thunder defeating the Magic, 118-102, to snap their lengthy losing streak, deny Orlando its first three-game winning streak and hopefully bring peace to what was a Magic Twitter civil war over the team’s recent success and its impact on lottery odds.
As we discussed in the preview for the game, it’s understandable to root for losses at this stage, and for the organization to put itself in the best position to get those losses and improve its odds. But the players that do take the court are still playing to win, so it’s irrational to get mad when they do so. Especially when it’s become painfully obvious that there are no guarantees in the lottery.
But that was not a concern for the Magic and their fans on Wednesday, although early on it looked like they were well on their way to getting that third straight win, taking a 20-9 lead on a three by R.J. Hampton. Franz Wagner had seven points in the first as Orlando shot 50 percent from the field, including 6 of 14 from three.
Dowtin, who signed a 10-day contract on Tuesday, was first off the bench for the Magic in this showdown, replacing Hampton with 5:55 left in the first. Dowtin’s runner, followed by Moe Wagner’s layup gave the Magic a 34-21 lead with 1:27 left in the first, but that would be the final Orlando field goal for quite some time.
A 13-0 OKC run carried from the first and into the second, as Orlando's second unit was held scoreless over the first four minutes of the quarter. Orlando went without a field goal for the first six minutes of the second as Oklahoma City went on a 20-2 run to start the quarter. The Magic were down 46-36 until they knocked down their first field goal, a three by Chuma Okeke with 5:45 left in the second.
That was the only make from deep on 10 attempts in the quarter for the Magic as they shot 27 percent overall in the second. The Magic got zero bench points in the second despite plenty of playing time for Dowtin (5 minutes), Brazdeikis (6 minutes) and Schofield (8 minutes). That trio, along with Moe Wagner. went 0-for-9 in the second quarter.
A dunk by Isaiah Roby capped a 33-7 Thunder run to open a 54-41 lead. The Magic answered with a 10-2 run to pull within 56-51. They went into the half trailing 60-53.
A three by Cole Anthony in the third capped a 7-0 Orlando run that pulled the Magic within one possession at 64-61. Mo Bamba then hit a three to even it up at 66-66 as OKC went without a field goal for nearly six minutes. It was a one-possession game until the second unit, along with Hampton, allowed OKC to close the quarter on a 10-3 run to take an 84-74 lead into the fourth.
The lead grew to as many as 19 in the fourth as Theo Maledon scored 17 of his season-high 25 points in the fourth quarter.
The Magic finished with six players in double figures, led by Okeke who shot 5-for-10 from three and had 19 points. Anthony had 17 points and 11 assists. Bamba had 11 points and 10 rebounds. Franz Wagner had 15 points. Hampton had 14 points and seven rebounds. Moe Wagner added 13 points and eight rebounds off the bench but, as part of a second unit that produced some ugly numbers, finished with a plus/minus of -31.
Schofield had six points on 2-for-8 shooting in 23 minutes (-26). Dowtin had four points on 2-for-8 shooting in 30 minutes (-22). Brazdeikis had three points on 1-for-8 shooting in 23 minutes (-39).
With the loss, the Magic fell to 20-54 and not only not only avoided falling out of the bottom three, but jumped into second as the Pistons defeated the Hawks on Wednesday to improve to 20-53. The Magic, with eight games remaining, are now 1.5 games ahead of the 21-52 Thunder, who remain in fourth in the lottery standings.
The Magic return home to face the 26-48 Kings on Saturday.