The Orlando Magic lost 113-108 to the Ja Morant-less Memphis Grizzlies, snapping their three-game winning streak and putting them 4.5 games behind the Chicago Bulls for 10th in the East.
After the Magic took a three-point lead in the first four minutes of the contest, the Grizzlies went on a 25-5 run to close out the first quarter. They led by 17 points after one quarter and never looked back, building their lead to as much as 23 points.
Perhaps they should have though as Orlando slowly whittled the lead down, getting some energetic play from Goga Bitadze in the second half and then a fourth-quarter surge from Franz Wagner.
Orlando cut the deficit to five points with 38 seconds left after Markelle Fultz stole the ball from Tyus Jones and hit a layup. They then cut the deficit to three with 22.5 seconds left after Wagner hit a three-pointer.
But after Desmond Bane split his free throws, Cole Anthony stepped out of bounds on a handoff and the Magic were not able to keep the pressure on. The Grizzlies won the game from the free throw line from there.
Orlando’s turnovers came to roost in the end as the team struggled to protect the ball and build sustained momentum offensively.
The Orlando Magic dug themselves too deep a hole and could not get all the way out, making too many critical mistakes in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Despite that fourth-quarter push, the Grizzlies controlled the game, always having a cushion, and never letting Orlando come within less than five points until the final minute.
This loss for Orlando includes more of the usual trends we have seen all year, which is to be expected as they are 76 games into their season. The Magic turned it over 16 times for 16 Grizzlies points — including 12 for 10 points in the first half as the Magic dug themselves a big hole.
Orlando could not find much relief offensively either, struggling on the interior and getting outscored 54-36 in the paint and struggling from deep, making just 14 of 49 3-pointers. The 49 3-pointers are a season-high and just the fourth time taking more than 40 3-pointers in a game this season.
Not much will change, for better or for worse and those trends go as followed.
Paolo and Franz Shine
Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner both scored more than 20 points helping make the loss bearable due to the constant reminder of their potential. They were both able to attack and find their shots with Wagner, especially, stepping up to try to get the Magic back in the game.
In the last 10 games, the Magic have gone the way of Wagner’s shooting percentage. When he shoots better than 50 percent from the floor, they win. When he does not, they lose. Tuesday night he did not.
Wagner finished with 25 points, scoring 16 in the fourth quarter alone. He made just 8 of 21 shots and 5 of 12 from deep with only four free throw attempts. He made five of his eight shots (on 10 field goal attempts) in the fourth quarter and three of his six 3-pointers.
Perhaps Orlando relies more heavily on him being efficient since Banchero’s shooting numbers are underwhelming and he tends to have nights where he struggles mightily shooting.
Banchero had 24 points on a steady 9-for-18 shooting, making three of seven 3-pointers for good measure.
But at the end of the day, no matter how poorly either player has played — and Tuesday they both played well enough to win despite Wagner getting off to a slow start — you want them with the ball in their hands taking shots down the stretch.
They did that against Memphis. It did not amount to enough, but that is something the fans and the organization did not have last season.
A mixed bag from the guards
More often than not, you will have to flip a coin to decide which guard will find his rhythm. The other night against the Brooklyn Nets, Cole Anthony led the team in scoring with 21 while Jalen Suggs also scored 16 is very much an outlier.
In the last four games, Suggs has scored 2, 16, 5 and 12 points while shooting 36 percent from the field over that stretch. Anthony meanwhile has scored 10, 21,18 and 16 points while shooting no less than 45 percent on any night.
Obviously, Anthony has played the best during the last bit of games, but that comes from him being the undisputed man off the bench.
And Suggs’ defense should not be understated. But it makes you wonder if there will be a conversation next season about if these two players will be able to reach their potential on the same team.
Especially with Markelle Fultz being firmly established as the number one point guard alongside Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero as the undisputed top options. Not to mention whoever is taken in the lottery.
After the trade deadline, the Orlando Magic lost some rotation players including Terrence Ross and Mo Bamba. And with the Jonathan Isaac injury, the Magic all of sudden became kind of thin in the front court, which is something nobody thought they would say after how reliant the team was on jumbo lineups.
So, with all of the turnover, there were questions about where the scoring would come from. And with Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner already under enough pressure prior to the deadline, it needed to be from the other guys.
And that is something that has happened, which is a nice sight to see.
The usual suspects, Wendell Carter, Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony and (sometimes) Jalen Suggs have picked up the slack.
Tuesday, the Magic had six players in double figures just after eight scored in double figures against the Nets the other night. Moe Wagner, Gary Harris and Goga Bitadze have also joined the fun.
They all contributed in helping get the Magic out of the hole and back into the game, even if it ended up too late.
As mentioned earlier, the Orlando Magic are five games back in the loss column to the Chicago Bulls for the 10th seed and final play-in spot.
With six games left remaining on the schedule, they would need to win out and hope for a miracle. And with the way the Bulls are playing — going 7-3 in their last 10 games — it is only a matter of time until they are mathematically eliminated.
The Magic are also in what could be described as “no-man land” where they are not exactly fighting for a play-in spot but also cannot “catch up” to the bottom four teams in the Wembanyama sweepstakes.
But that does not mean they have nothing to play for. Orlando can continue to play competitively night in and night out to end the season strong.
It will give the young players a springboard into next year and that is certainly a position the Magic were not in last season as they went 3-7 in their last 10 games.
The Orlando Magic have a game Friday against the Washington Wizards to end out the month and then they finish out the year against the Detroit Pistons, the Cleveland Cavaliers twice, the Brooklyn Nets and the Miami Heat.