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Orlando at Toronto preview: Magic head north, must ‘get back in the saddle’

Teams go on runs in the NBA, leads are blown around the league every night. Now, the Magic must respond.

Indiana Pacers v Orlando Magic Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

There was a lot of hurt among the Orlando Magic after their game Wednesday night at the Amway Center, enough to go around that you could feel it. After leading by as many as 18-points in the second half, the Magic blew an opportunity - dropping the contest 122-114 to the Indiana Pacers (their second consecutive home game against the Pacers).

“These are the worst kinds of games to lose,” Magic center Mo Bamba told reporters after the game Wednesday. “I kept saying during timeouts, lets grow through this, let’s keep going (providing encouragement). But yeah, these are the worst kinds of losses.

You could feel momentum slipping away from the Magic right from the very beginning of the fourth quarter. The shots Orlando had been getting all night were becoming a lot more forced, the ball wasn’t moving from side-to-side (or in-to-out) nearly as often as it had been over the previous three quarters, and committing defensive fouls started to become more of a problem. The Magic were outscored 46-23 in the fourth quarter and overtime period (combined).

“They went on their run at the opportune time,” Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley told reporters after the game. “Like I said, credit to them for what they did. We’ll look at the film and understand how we can get better from this (and learn from this).”

Despite the dejection, Magic players and coaches were trying to stay positive Wednesday, choosing instead to try and find positives to draw from such an experience. One of those positives was clearly the (continued) stellar play by rookie forward Franz Wagner.

“Obviously, we would’ve liked to win (this) game,” Wagner said after Wednesday’s game against Indiana. “But like I said, you can still learn a lot from (a game) like this.”

Wagner led the Magic Wednesday with 28 points (10-18 FGA’s, 4-6 3PTA’s), 6 rebounds, and 2 steals. Twelve of those points came within the first five minutes of the third quarter, helping Orlando push their lead over Indiana to double-digits.

“He (Franz) takes what he wants, he plays like a big guard,” Bamba said of Wagner. “He slashes with the best of them, he creates angles for himself. Like ‘all right, there’s no way he can get to the rim’, but the next thing you know, he’s side-stepping to the cup. It’s just good to see him grow, his (basketball) I.Q. and just how unselfish he is, it’s really contagious.”

After completing a month that saw Wagner average 14.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.1 assists on 47.7 percent shooting, the former eighth overall pick started March off with a bang. February marked the fourth time Wagner finished a month shooting over 45% from the field, and the third time he’s shot over 40% from beyond the arc for an entire month.

There were definitely positives to draw from Wednesday. The offense exploded for 91 points through the first three quarters. The defense held Indiana below 23 total points in two of the first three quarters (first and third, respectively).

The question for such an incredibly young team now becomes, how do they respond moving forward?

Moving forward immediately begins on the road, as Orlando heads to Canada for the second time this season, their first trip since late October. Friday’s game against the Raptors is actually a rescheduled game from a contest that was postponed on December 20th due to COVID-19 and player availability, as a handful of Magic players were in league mandated health and safety protocols at the time.

Despite their post-All-Star break inspired play (winners of two of three), the Magic head to Toronto as considerable underdogs (+8) in their matchup against the Raptors Friday night inside Scotiabank Arena.

The Magic will be without Markelle Fultz in Toronto for load management purposes after playing in his first two games since missing 14 months due to a torn ACL.

Fultz has dazzled in his return to the floor, scoring in double-figures in both contests (10, 11) - despite only playing a total of 31 minutes on the court. The former first overall pick (‘17 NBA Draft) has made 10 of 13 shots from the floor, consisting of dazzling finishes at the rim and mid-range jumpers off the dribble.

Indiana Pacers v Orlando Magic Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

“He can get into the lane, pretty much whenever he wants to,” Wagner said of Fultz. “He’s really crafty in there, and you have to have your hands ready. I’m going to look to be ready to cut, to be ready to shoot from the outside, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Fultz has already dished-out eight assists in limited minutes (15.5 minutes per game). The 6-4 lead guard provides the Magic with another playmaker who can create off the dribble, while also setting up Wagner, Bamba, and Wendell Carter Jr. for easy touches in the painted area.

The Toronto Raptors have been busy, already participants in five post-All-Star break games since just last week. After defeating the Brooklyn Nets in back-to-back contests this past Monday and Tuesday, the Raptors stubbed their toe at home against the lowly Detroit Pistons Thursday night (108-106). Trailing by 14 points heading into the fourth quarter, Toronto’s comeback attempt to steal a win fell just short.

Pascal Siakam led the way for the Raptors Thursday with 28 points. The sixth-year veteran forward is averaging 21.2 points and a career-high 8.4 rebounds (2.0 OREB) per game in 2021-22.

Scottie Barnes, who was recently named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month, scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against Detroit. The fourth overall pick from this past draft averaged 15.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.4 steals in the month of February.
Toronto will be missing forward OG Anunoby, who is sidelined with a finger injury and is expected to be out for 2 to 3 weeks. Starting point guard Fred VanVleet (day to day, knee) is also ‘questionable’ to play Friday. VanVleet (21.4 points, 6.9 assists per game) has missed Toronto’s last three contests.

The Raptors currently sit seventh in the Eastern Conference standings, just 3.5 games back of Milwaukee for the fourth-seed (and home-court advantage in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs).

So it’s back on the road for the Magic, and they will certainly have their hands full, both in Toronto and in Memphis (the second game of the two-game road-trip).

What will be the most important thing to pay attention to Friday night? How does this young team, who hasn’t been accustomed to protecting and playing with a significant lead very often this season, respond to Wednesday’s letdown.

“This is great for these guys. (These are) going to be continued scenarios where we have to learn how to pull them out down the stretch,” Mosley told reporters. “We’ve talked about our ability to execute. I’ve told the guys, let it sting, let it burn now. We know what we’re capable of in this game, but we’ve got to bounce back, get on a plane, and head to Toronto.”

There’s no question, Mosley will have Wagner, Bamba, and the rest of his guys ready to bounce back in the saddle Friday night, just north of the border (7:30 PM EST).

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