Orlando Magic Grades: Orlando Magic 114, Sacramento Kings 112

The Orlando Magic survived another late rally on an Aaron Gordon lay in with 1.1 seconds left to defeat the Sacramento Kings.

Final
Orlando Magic
114
Sacramento Kings
112

The Orlando Magic saw their lead collapse again to another 8-0 run. It was exactly the same thing that happened late in their loss to the Phoenix Suns on Friday. A star took over and the Magic found no answers to stop him.

With the Sacramento Kings down by seven points with 70 seconds to play, De’Aaron Fox took over. He found Nemanja Bjelica for his eighth 3-pointer of the game. The Magic found Nikola Vucevic for an open layup, but he traveled as he gathered following a pump fake.

Fox took that as an invitation to keep driving. He drove right into Markelle Fultz‘s body and moved him off his spot to cut the lead to two.

The Magic struggled to get anything going on their next possession. Markelle Fultz recovered a loose ball to force a jump ball. But the Kings won that. And Fox went back to work with Bjelica. Two Magic defenders left him to try to scramble to Bjelica.

De’Aaron Fox took advantage and finished a floater over Nikola Vucevic with the foul. An 8-0 run again and a one-point lead with 15 seconds to play. The Magic had collapsed again.

Their last chance seemed like a disaster too. The Kings blew up their play to get Evan Fournier working with Nikola Vucevic. And so Evan Fournier chose to isolate his man. He got to the elbow with his defender swarming him completely and he rose up to try to get something toward the rim for the win.

At the last second, he saw Aaron Gordon crash the lane preparing for an offensive rebound. Evan Fournier slipped the ball from his shot motion into a pass toward Aaron Gordon, seemingly catching him a bit by surprise. Gordon caught the ball and had the wherewithal to direct the ball toward the basket.

The defender was just as surprised, fouling Gordon. The ball went in and the Magic had been rescued with 1.1 seconds to play.

As they had done for most of the night, they got a hand on the inbounds pass as the Kings tried to lob it toward the basket (over Mohamed Bamba on the inbounds) and the Magic had survived 114-112 at Golden 1 Center.

The Magic had escaped. Coach Steve Clifford said after the game the Magic played their worst game since going to their bigger lineup. They missed coverages on Bjelica especially as he scored a career-high 34 points on 8-for-10 shooting from beyond the arc. Fox dominated the rest of the game, driving on the Magic’s scrambled defense.

That is how Orlando lost as much as a 17-point lead in the second quarter. And Orlando’s passing sort of died as the Magic tried to force the ball into Vucevic time and time again. He struggled to consistently score even against the smaller Kings players.

It was an imperfect game. But as Clifford said, it is better to learn these lessons in a win. And it felt like a big one.

AARON GORDON

F, Orlando Magic

A-

Aaron Gordon was the hero of the game for being in the right spot at the right time for the Orlando Magic. He was going for the offensive glass when Evan Fournier spotted him and Aaron Gordon had the awareness to get the ball up and finish at the rim. It was a perfect cap to a big return for Gordon.

Gordon is still dealing with some calf soreness. But apparently was good to go. He still needed to find his rhythm — he made only two of his four free throws. But it otherwise hardly looked like he missed a beat. Gordon finished with 19 points on 8-for-16 shooting. He added nine rebounds. And he had a vicious block on Harry Giles.

Gordon did not take too many shots from the outside. He hit a couple of his post fadeaways and worked to get inside the lane. He played composed and careful. The way the Magic need him to play offensively. Gordon was not out there doing too much. And at the end of the game, he put himself in a position to score and finished.

EVAN FOURNIER

G/F, Orlando Magic

B+

The other hero of the night was Evan Fournier. He carried the team for much of the fourth quarter. The Orlando Magic built their seven-point lead because Fournier was attacking the basket aggressively and working the pick and roll with Nikola Vucevic. Fournier was doing really whatever he wanted against the Kings’ defense.

Fournier scored 25 points on 6-for-16 shooting, making all 12 of his free throws. He was aggressive and did a good job finding his way in the lane and creating contact. The kind of contact he did not get the call for Friday night.

Where Fournier really excelled was with his playmaking. He had six assists — including that last one — and did a really good job seeing the entire floor. He still missed a few guys and had some tunnel vision working with Vucevic late in the game especially. But his passing made him far more effective and someone they could trust to make that final play.

NIKOLA VUCEVIC

C, Orlando Magic

C

Nikola Vucevic had every advantage in the post. And the Orlando Magic were going to him often. This was the right strategy and Vucevic rewarded them plenty for it. He finished with 26 points and 15 rebounds. He was plenty active around the basket.

But in the second half, especially, the Magic were trying to force the ball into him. While he still read the defense well and got others involved, it still brought the entire offense to a standstill. It halted everything the Magic were trying to do. And Vucevic struggled to hit the shots he did get — 9 for 23 from the floor.

This compounded his struggles defensively. The Sacramento Kings went super small throughout the game and that forced Nikola Vucevic to defend Nemanja Bjelica. With De’Aaron Fox always putting pressure on the paint, Nikola Vucevic constantly sunk too deep. That left Bjelica open far too often. The Magic never found a consistent way to defend this.

MARKELLE FULTZ

PG, Orlando Magic

B+

Markelle Fultz continues to show flashes of how special he will be. There was also no clearer sign that he is two years behind in his development because of his injury than watching how De’Aaron Fox could take over the game and, frankly, out-physical him in stretches. Fultz is still a rookie. In that sense, it was good to see him bounce back from his frustrating finish to Friday’s game.

Fultz though still made a clear impact. He went on a nice scoring binge in the second quarter that helped the Magic stand off the first run the Kings made and expand their lead. He finished with 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting. He was aggressive looking for his shot and was able to get to the basket.

Like Friday, Fultz still drove in a bit too deep at times. But some of the passes he was zipping around were incredible. Fultz looked like a burgeoning star for a lot of this game. The Magic could have looked to run more through him in the final moments and it would have been perfectly OK. Fultz had a lot of drive in this game and he largely delivered.

SACRAMENTO KINGS

15-25, 13th West

B

The Sacramento Kings found a formula that worked for them offensively and they kept attacking with it. The Orlando Magic — and Nikola Vucevic especially — struggle with downhill point guards like De’Aaron Fox. He beat them to a pulp and carried the Sacramento Kings back into the game. They also struggle with 5-out offenses and the pressure De’Aaron Fox put on the back-line defense freed up Nemanja Bjelica.

Both of those players were plenty effective and the Kings had a steady stream of shots throughout the game. They made 51 percent of their shots for the game. Orlando’s defense was inconsistent, especially in the second half.

The Kings went through their scoring binges like they usually do. But they never were able to take hold of the game. The Magic kept making plays to disrupt their rhythm and send the Kings back into a deficit. Orlando always had control of the game and Sacramento could not get stops consistently until the game got tight. The Kings should have a better shape to them without the need for desperation.

The Orlando Magic are 19-21 and seventh in the Eastern Conference, in a virtual tie with the Brooklyn Nets. They are 5.5 games behind the Philadelphia 76ers for sixth in the East and 5.5 games ahead of the Charlotte Hornets for eighth.

Next: Orlando Magic's defense rounding into form

The Orlando Magic return to action Wednesday against the Los Angeles Lakers for a Staples Center back to back.

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