Orlando Magic Grades: Portland Trail Blazers 112, Orlando Magic 105

Dwayne Bacon tallied a career high in assists as the Orlando Magic put up a good fight in a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports
Dwayne Bacon tallied a career high in assists as the Orlando Magic put up a good fight in a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports /

38. Final. 112. 34. 105

For the Orlando Magic to win games, it is going to be on the margins. It is going to be little plays here and there that determine whether they are able to come out on top and whether they will get the reward for what is surely a hard effort.

Down to just seven players before the game — with Michael Carter-Williams at first a late scratch with a stomach illness and then checking into the game in the middle of the first quarter to make it eight players total — the Magic knew they would need a supreme effort.

They got it with some good ball movement and heady defensive play. Nobody has ever questioned the Magic’s effort all year. And certianly, not in this game with the odds stacked against them.

But the turning point were those margins.

Chuma Okeke put two spin moves on Carmelo Anthony to help relieve some pressure and try to get going downhill. He then fired a pass to Michael Carter-Williams beneath the basket. But he missed the layup off the back rim.

On the other end, holding onto a five-point lead, C.J. McCollum went to work.

He tried a first move, then a second, then a third, then a fourth, but Okeke would not let him get by. Finally, McCollum found a little edge. The margin he needed. McCollum hit a tough floater with Okeke only able to watch.

The Blazers had the cushion they needed to hold for a 112-105 win at the Amway Center on Friday.

The Orlando Magic put up a strong effort as they waited for their new players to join the team. But some plays on the margins cost the Magic a chance to steal a win.

Orlando fought all the way to the end. Shorthanded and undermanned with the new players still getting the final stamp of approval to hit the floor, the Magic had to scrap and claw all game just to stay in it.

Portland hit plenty of 3-pointers that would seemingly put the team ahead for good. But the team’s turnovers and defense cost them. The Magic hit 12 3-pointers of their own and made 44.2-percent of their shots. They just would not seem to go away.

But Orlando will look at its own mistakes. Some poor rebounding, especially on the offensive glass, and eight missed free throws stung. These are the kinds of things a team can control itself. The kinds of things the Magic were good at taking care of when they were at their best with the previous group — the things the three players who left were good at doing.

Orlando still has work to do. But the effort and competitiveness are a good start.

. F. Orlando Magic. CHUMA OKEKE. A

Chuma Okeke followed up a career-high 17 points with a career-high 22 points. The six-for-six shooting he posted in Wednesday’s win turned into a stellar 9-for-15 shooting performance with four 3-pointers in six tries. Okeke was everywhere offensively. But it was not just his sooting. He hit the Blazers with at least two impressive post moves, showing an expansion to his game. The Magic needed him on the floor not just to space the floor but to be a slashing and scoring threat.

Okeke is not just about his offense ever though. His defense remains impressive. He has a knack for getting his hand on the ball and collecting deflections. He is fairly disciplined — certainly more disciplined than earlier in the season — and stays down and in front of his man. He also is willing to mix it up on the glass. His six rebounds were tough. The rookie’s coming out party is on more than NBA Top Shot right now. His game is legitimate.

A-. . C. Orlando Magic. KHEM BIRCH

Khem Birch might very well be the heart and soul of this team now. He is all effort and energy and is going to do the things that do not show up in a box score. If the Orlando Magic need to win on the margins, Birch’s specialty is playing in those margins. It might be hard to keep him off the court (which might tick off some fans eager to see the team play younger players, but the fact is he helps this team win).

Birch finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds. He added four assists. He was for long stretches the only Magic player willing to get physical with Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter, two excellent rebounders and threats on the offensive glass. Birch still got outmatched at times and his offensive game is still a bit inconsistent. It is not his natural fit. But if this is Heart & Hustle 2.0, Khem Birch is its Ben Wallace or Bo Outlaw.

B+. . G/F. Orlando Magic. DWAYNE BACON

The issue the Orlando Magic are going to face for the moment is one of creation. Who initiates the offense? Who drives the ball? And who is the guy kicking out to the Magic’s shooters? There is no perfect answer right now — although some reinforcements in Cole Anthony, Gary Harris and Otto Porter to some extent may be on the way. For this night, the Magic had two drivers and both deserve a look.

Dwayne Bacon did better at it, but it is clear where his limitations are at this point. He finished with 17 points and a career-high six assists. It was a solid performance from him in the first half especially when he was doing a good job reading plays and finding shooters. His penchant though for creating tough shots and looking to score first is both a great asset and a weakness. In this game, he made his shots. But when he goes cold, the Magic could be in some trouble.


Michael Carter-Williams was a late scratch from the game because of a stomach illness. Terrence Ross even took the court in his warmup but stood off to the side since he was out so the Orlando Magic would have the required eight players to play. So when Carter-Williams started warming up and then checked in during the first quarter it was a surprise. Kudos to him for shouldering through it and still logging 28 minutes. He was clearly drained and struggling on the bench.

Still, Carter-Williams put up some solid numbers with 11 points, six assists and five rebounds. But he was still wildly inefficient, making only 4 of 13 shots and 3 of 7 free throws. He was forcing the ball into the lane and struggling to finish. His four turnovers hurt. And without efficiency, his wild drives could derail possessions and halt momentum.

B. . 27-18. 6th West. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

The Portland Trail Blazers were making their own welcome in this game with Norman Powell making his debut after a trade Thursday and Jusuf Nurkic returning to the lineup. They got plenty from both to be pleased about. Powell scored 22 points nad hit five 3-pointers and Nurkis had eight points and eight rebounds.

Portland did all the things the team normally does, draining 18 of 40 3-pointers. The only negative might have been C.J. McCollum’s 8-for-26 performance. But he hit big shots down the stretch to ice the game on his way to 22 points. The Portland Trail Blazers’ defense was still a concern as the Orlando Magic were able to hit threes at a strong rate. But Portland buckled down for the win despite it all.

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The Magic are now 15-30 and 14th in the Eastern Conference. They trail the Chicago Bulls by five games for the final spot in the Play-In Tournament. They are back in action Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers to start a five-game West Coast road trip.