Orlando Magic cannot escape injuries even in breakthrough moments

Paolo Banchero stepped up with an impressive 31 points to lead the Orlando Magic through another round of injuries. Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero stepped up with an impressive 31 points to lead the Orlando Magic through another round of injuries. Mandatory Credit: Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports /

117. 38. 106. 170. Final

Paolo Banchero was having his moment yet again.

Yes, against the woeful Charlotte Hornets, but every big game and every big accomplishment is worth celebrating as the first step in the process. Banchero will have plenty of games like this one.

Games where he deftly uses his size and surprising speed to blow by bigger defenders and then uses his strength to finish at the rim through contact. Games where he calmly hits jumpers over smaller defenders or anyone who stands in front of him.

Banchero scored 16 of his 31 points in the third quarter, helping the Orlando Magic build as much as a 24-point lead. The Magic could be coasting to a win.

The result for the Magic did not seem to matter as much — the Hornets did cut the deficit to as close as seven points before Markelle Fultz and Gary Harris hit critical shots to extend the lead back out for a 117-106 victory at Spectrum Center on Friday.

Injuries had once again become the story for the Magic. The time when Orlando could feel it had a fully healthy roster had slowly dissipated in the last week. And then an in-game injury led everyone to hold their breath.

Injuries were once again the big storyline for the Orlando Magic even in a solid win over the Charlotte Hornets on the road.

Franz Wagner seemed on track for another solid game, scoring nine points on 3-for-5 shooting. The bench was starting to assert its will and pull ahead in the second quarter.

That is when Wagner tried tracking down a loose ball rolling toward the Magic’s basket. He appeared to trip on the ball itself before hitting the floor hard and appearing to roll his ankle.

He sat on the ground holding his left ankle. He was able to get up but limped badly before walking off the court and toward the tunnel. He would not return for the game.

X-rays on Wagner’s ankle came back negative, a positive sign but one that does not give a clue as to how long he could be out. Coach Jamahl Mosley said after the game Franz Wagner will be re-evaluated when they return home but should be fine overall.

Knowing Wagner, he is not likely to miss a ton of time despite the injury scare.

This came only hours after the Magic announced Jonathan Isaac would not play for the rest of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a tear to his left adductor muscle. Isaac played in only 11 games after missing nearly 2.5 years recovering from a torn ACL and hamstring surgery.

It was a gut punch for a team and an organization that had rallied around Isaac and his recovery.

"“Our thoughts are with Jonathan, whose fortitude in dealing with adversity is unique,” president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said in a press release. “Jonathan has worked extremely hard to return to the court this season and has demonstrated his impact on our team. We will be by his side as he focuses on the work ahead.”"

It was hard to be too celebratory of another winning road trip and the team’s resilience to hold onto the lead and finish strong. There are just so many questions left now as to how this team moves forward.

But the games do march on. And the team is going to have to once again find a way to fill in.

It starts with their star rookie taking the load and leading the way as stars do.

"“I thought his level of aggression was there,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Friday’s win. “His ability to get to his spots on the floor, attacking the basket the same way with a level of aggression. His teammates trusted him in those moments. Similar to the last time that we played, he got to his spots on the floor and looking to attack the rim.”"

Banchero scored 31 points, his highest-scoring output since the Dec. 18 win over the Boston Celtics. It was his fifth game with 30 points or more. His two 3-pointers made were the first time he made at least two 3-pointers in a game since the Jan. 30 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

He made 13 of 26 shots and somehow took only four free throws. The 26 field goal attempts were the most since the Nov. 5 overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings, his first 30-point game.

That should give some hint about how good the Magic can play when Banchero is on a heater like this. The Magic understood Banchero had it rolling and fed him the ball. And Banchero stayed on the attack.

This is a guy who is born to score. And with two strong games on this road trip, perhaps he is inching out of his little mini-slump.

The Magic again got a superb effort from the bench with the Magic’s reserves outscoring the Hornets’ bench 47-23.

Cole Anthony scored 16 points off the bench on 6-for-10 shooting as he continues to find efficiency in second units while staying on the attack and avoiding settling for outside shots.

Jalen Suggs scored 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting, filling in for Franz Wagner in the starting lineup in the second half. Suggs continued to be a pest defensively while pushing the tempo and trying to stay on the attack offensively.

They had to adjust most of all to their lineups and new roles with Wagner out of the game. And they all largely stepped up to the plate.

"“We’ve got a really good bench,” Anthony said after Friday’s win. “When we get in there and played fast. In the first half we did a really good job playing fast. The second half, it was a little difficult. The one thing about our lineup is it has been different a lot. Franz was out the second half. Unfortunately, JI is out for a little bit. It has been changing up a lot. We just keep adjusting and staying ready.”"

It was more of a mixed bag than it seemed. The Magic again probably stuck with the bench a tick too long and did not put the game away. The Hornets cut the deficit to seven points thanks to some reckless turnovers — the Magic had 20 for 27 Hornets points — and killer shooting from Kelly Oubre.

No lead is ever safe in the NBA. And this Magic team still has a lot of lessons to learn to keep the lead.

Orlando closed the door though with some timely shots from Markelle Fultz (nine points, 4-for-8 shooting, five turnovers) and Gary Harris (nine points, 4-for-8 shooting).

Overall, Orlando played a solid defensive game too. The team posted a 106.0 defensive rating and gave up just 9-for-24 shooting from deep — a far cry from Wednesday’s struggles at the 3-point line. Aside from a few turnover-induced slips, the Magic were a tough defense to crack yet again.

In the end, the win is all that matters.

But Wagner was sorely missed. The calming influence he brings is evident. He is a stabilizer on both ends of the floor, able to slow down the best wing players on the other team while being a consistent offensive option and attacker.

Orlando has done its best throughout the season to step up and fill in when players go out. The team was certainly enjoying a spate of good health to see what this group looks like at full strength.

Having to figure out how to step up and replace such a critical player was a struggle to do in real-time at times. It will be a struggle if the Magic do end up having to go without Wagner for longer periods of time.

Isaac’s absence too will be felt. His defensive presence was key to the bench group’s overall emergence and gave the Magic a killer weapon off the bench, especially with Suggs’ pesky defense backing him up on the perimeter.

These injury concerns overshadowed a solid (if still a bit uneven) win over the Hornets. Perhaps because it was the Hornets, the Magic still had enough margin for error to play with a little reckless abandon and make mistakes they could recover from.

That in itself is a breakthrough as the Magic can make mistakes and still give themselves a chance to win. it was a breakthrough because the team is still discovering what Banchero is capable of.

Next. Orlando Magic need to stop treading water. dark

Now the team will have to ask more of its players to fill in once again.