If before the game you had said, the Orlando Magic would have two separate 15-point leads, never trail and shoot 51 percent from the field, nobody would have tuned into Tuesday’s matchup because it would have been a blowout.
Luckily for fans hoping for a good game, they got one. And unfortunately for Magic fans, they now need new blood pressure medication.
The Orlando Magic defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 109-106, in a game that came down to the final seconds despite Orlando leading the entire game. Behind Franz Wagner’s 29 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter, and four other players in double digits, Orlando withstood multiple blown leads to pull out a nail-biter, needing a trio of 3-point misses on the final possession to avoid overtime as their fouling came into play late.
The Orlando Magic took the lead and held on tight, withstanding rallies in the second and fourth quarters including a trio of late 3-point misses to hold on for a win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
After jumping to an early 13-point lead in the first quarter, Orlando gave it right back, losing the second quarter 30-17 to go into the locker room tied.
Paolo Banchero suffered the same ups and downs as the team with all nine of his points at half coming in the opening quarter. But he and the offense went silent as turnovers and forays into the lane brought Portland back into the game.
Beginning the third quarter, the Magic bolted away again with a 15-0 run that gave them a nine-point lead entering the final quarter.
But by midway through the fourth quarter, it was obvious Orlando would need to withstand another inevitable Portland run as Portland fed off the home crowd and held the confidence from erasing their deficit earlier in the game.
Clutch free throws down the stretch along with a timely coach’s challenge helped the Magic to keep a bit of momentum and fend off a surging Blazers squad.
Still, it was a nervy finish. The Magic struggled to get good shots down the stretch as they went to a slowdown offense and could not break the blitzes on the Magic’s screen and rolls. And then a phantom call on Gary Harris gave Damian Lillard three free throws and cut the lead to one.
On the final possession, Jerami Grant, Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons each missed 3-pointers with a chance to force overtime. But all the shots went no good and the Magic survived.
Going into January, the Magic knew they needed to not only make up for their skid at the end of December but also rekindle the success they had in their win streak. Doing that on the team’s first of two West Coast trips was going to be tough.
Coming off Monday’s disappointing loss to the Sacramento Kings, it was going to be key for the team to respond. The Magic did that with a better effort early on. And Orlando doubled down on that by responding to the runs Portland put on the team to stay in the lead and gut out the win.
3 key factors going forward:
1. Three-point defense
One of the biggest reasons for the Orlando Magic’s six-game win streak in mid-December was their 3-point defense.
That perimeter defense was evident in their victory as the Portland Trail Blazers only shot 17.1 percent (6 for 35) from deep. It was certainly a far cry from the Magic’s 37.5 percent. Portland missed some open looks and there was some measure of 3-point luck. But the Magic did a good job scrambling to the 3-point line and closing out on shooters.
Damian Lillard was 2 for 12, Jerami Grant missed all six of his attempts and the Blazers’ leading scorer Anfernee Simmons went 2 for 9.
2. Paolo and Franz show
There has been a lot of buzz around NBA circles about what is going on down in Orlando. More specifically, how well Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner are scoring the basketball.
The two wings, both younger than 21 years old, are scoring at a 20-points-per-game clip. This is almost unheard of.
Against the Portland Trail Blazers, they combined for 44 percent of the team’s points. Banchero scored 16 of his 19 points in the first and third quarters. Wagner scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, carrying the Magic to a double-digit lead and helping keep the Blazers at bay.
3. Markelle Fultz continues to show his importance
When Markelle Fultz plays well, the Orlando Magic look better. It is almost nauseating to bring it up at this point because it seems like everybody recognizes it. But it is the truth.
Going into the season there were a lot of unknowns, especially with his injury history, but it is now clear who the number one point guard is on the Magic.
Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs are clear bench guys for the time being and with Markelle Fultz shooting 7 for 8 from the field for 18 points. It will not change any time soon. Not to mention he also had seven assists against Portland.
After Tuesday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Orlando Magic will continue their Western road trip with the Utah Jazz on Friday and the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
For the Magic, this road trip, and the first part of January looked like do or die. So far they have kept their heads above water, even on a night like Tuesday, when they could have rolled over.
There is a lot to like about this team, despite the blown leads.
If they split their next six games, the Magic will align themselves to play meaningful basketball past the All-Star break.