The Cavs were in desperate need of a victory, but the Magic didn’t allow them to get it easily. Even if they tried.
A Magic team that came back from as many as 20 down sat its starters for the entire fourth quarter of a close game. The second unit fought until the very end but ultimately fell to the Cavs, 107-101.
With the loss, the Magic reclaimed the worst record in the NBA at 20-56, sitting a half game “ahead” of the Pistons and Rockets.
The game began with an early three-point contest between Mo Bamba, R.J. Hampton and Darius Garland. After Garland opened with a pair of threes, Bamba and Hampton hit two each as the Magic drained four of their first five three-point attempts. Orlando, which had five first-quarter turnovers, missed its next four shots from deep in the quarter.
Markelle Fultz was aggressive inside early on, scoring six points on 3-for-5 shooting in the first.
Wendell Carter Jr., making his return after missing the last two games with ankle and wrist sprains, missed all four of his first-quarter shots but had five rebounds and four assists. The Magic shot 45 percent in the first and trailed 27-22 heading into the second.
Kevin Love scored eight points during a 18-0 Cleveland run early in the second as the Cavs made seven of their first eight shots in the second to increase the lead to 44-25.
A pair of drives by Franz Wagner highlighted a 14-2 Magic run that pulled Orlando back within 47-39 with 4:16 left in the half. Wagner later lofted an alley-oop to Carter, then found Ignas Brazdeikis on a backdoor cut, and then fed Brazdeikis inside for the hook to cut the Magic’s deficit to 51-47.
Carter Jr. then hit a seven-footer to cap a 20-4 run and bring Orlando within two at 51-49. The Cavs answered with a 9-1 run, highlighted by a pair of threes by Love, to take a 60-53 lead into the break.
It was a balanced attack for the Magic, who shot 52 percent in the half (matching the Cavs). Carter Jr. led the way with eight while five others had six points each.
With the Cavs having lost Evan Mobley to an ankle injury in the second quarter, the Magic took advantage by scoring inside during a 9-2 run early in the third. Orlando took the lead on a three by Bamba that made it 66-64 with just under eight minutes to go into the third. The Cavs responded with an 8-0 run and eventually went back up by as many as seven. The Magic chipped away, pulling back within one on a layup by Fultz that made it 81-80 with 11 seconds left in the third.
The Magic took the lead on a floater by Admiral Schofield, then pushed it to four after Fultz hit a reverse layup plus the foul for a three-point play and 85-81 Orlando advantage.
It was the second unit’s game to finish as Jamahl Mosley kept the starters on the bench for the entire fourth, going with a tanking-extroadinare closing lineup of Jeff Dowtin, Brazdeikis, Schofield, Chuma Okeke and Moe Wagner.
The lead changed hands multiple times until Lauri Markkanen hit a three that put the Cavs up 93-92 with 4:37 left. That was the start of a 12-0 Cleveland run, during which the Magic committed four turnovers. that pushed the Cavs’ lead to 102-92.
Still, the Magic didn’t go quietly. Dowtin, Okeke and Schofield hit late threes to make it a one-possession game at 104-101 with under 20 seconds left. But the Cavs hit their free throws to secure a much-needed win.
Garland finished with 25 points and 12 assists. The Magic had seven players in double figures, led by Carter Jr., who had 15 points and 12 rebounds. Brazdeikis matched a season-high with 13 points.
The Magic’s two-game road trip continues Wednesday in Washington.