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Bamba Impressive in Magic's Preseason Win Over Spurs

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

SAN ANTONIO – As much as he’s grown physically in terms of adding some much-needed strength and bulk to his previously rail-thin body, Orlando Magic center Mo Bamba’s biggest progress has come with the mental side of the game.

Now a second-year NBA player with a summer of seasoning, Bamba is a big man with a plan.

Possessing a much better plan for how he can impact the game and be successful, Bamba proved himself to be the breakout star of the Magic’s first game of the preseason on Saturday in San Antonio. Playing with much more energy and aggression than he showed during an injury-shortened rookie season mostly filled with struggles, Bamba scored 18 points and keyed a lopsided third-quarter burst as the Magic routed the Spurs 125-89 at the AT&T Center.

The 7-foot, 230-pound Bamba did a little bit of everything for the Magic (1-0), chipping in six rebounds, three blocked shots, a steal and a 3-pointer in less than three quarters of work. In his 19 minutes of action, the No. 6 pick from the 2018 NBA Draft made seven of 11 shots and helped the Magic to a plus-27 in scoring over the Spurs (0-1).

``I felt pretty good. Coach (Steve Clifford) preaches offensive energy and getting into the next action and I did exactly that and I was able to get teammates a lot of open shots,’’ said Bamba, who helped to key a 24-2 burst by the Magic’s second unit in the third quarter. ``I’m definitely a little stronger, but I have a way to go with that and I feel like I can maintain (his conditioning) throughout the season so that I can find ways to manipulate the game. But, thus far, I can really see a difference.’’

Bamba was so good on Saturday that he nearly overshadowed the Magic debut of point guard Markelle Fultz, who played well in a reserve role despite some shaky shooting and rusty ballhandling. Fultz, who considers himself fully healthy for the first time since spending the past two seasons battling through thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder, had six points, four assists and two steals while playing with the Magic’s second unit.

``It was huge, it’s really just a blessing and I give all of the praise to the man up top, God,’’ Fultz said afterward in a joyous Magic locker room. ``It was my first time back out there in a long time and I’m just happy that I was able to step out onto the floor and compete.’’

Fultz made just three of eight shots and turned the ball over four times, but he helped the Magic push the pace to set up easy baskets in a run-away third period. Two of his assists led to open 3-pointers for Terrence Ross (14 points and four 3-pointers) and Fultz finished a third fast break with a thunderous one-handed dunk. He was so impactful on the game that the Magic were a plus-30 on the scoreboard in his 17 minutes and six seconds on the floor.

``One of the things I tried to lock in on coming into the game was to push the pace, help us get into the flow of our offense and get these guys going,’’ Fultz said. ``I’ve tried to learn my teammates’ games as good as I can, and I know that once T-Ross gets going, he’s hard to stop. So, if I can find him early and often, and get him easy shots, that’s what I want to do. That can help the team and help us all and it makes it all look good.’’

As for Bamba, Clifford heaped praise upon the rapidly improving big man throughout training camp, saying the 21-year-old center is playing much harder because of his improved conditioning and comfort level on the court. Bamba split his time in the offseason between Orlando and Los Angeles, working throughout on developing a plan of attack against opposing defenders. Clifford has taken notice of the big strides made and he thinks Bamba has set himself up for a solid season with his work in the summer.

``I think his purpose of play has been greatly, greatly improved,’’ Clifford said. ``(Assistant coach) Mike Batiste has done a great job with Mo, but still it always gets back to the player and Mo has put a lot into it. He has a lot better idea of what the NBA is about and ways that he has to play so that he can play well at both ends of the floor. … I think purpose of play is a big deal and he’s made great strides there.’’

The Magic opened just as they finished last season, beginning with a starting five of Aaron Gordon (14 points and four rebounds), Nikola Vucevic (seven points and three assists), D.J. Augustin (seven points and four assists), Evan Fournier (six points) and Jonathan Isaac (five points, five rebounds and two blocked shots). The Magic not only return all five starters from a team that closed with a 22-9 record last spring, but they also have 12 players back who accounted for 86.4 percent of all their minutes played last season.

Al-Farouq Aminu, one of the few newcomers to the Magic after signing with the team in free agency in July, handed out five first-half assists. He finished with nine points, five assists and four rebounds in 18 minutes.

Gordon played well in 15 first-half minutes, scoring nine points, while also grabbing five rebounds and handing out two assists.

Up 10 early in the third period, the Magic turned to their second unit and broke the game wide open against a San Antonio team that rested veteran all-star DeMar DeRozan and played LaMarcus Aldridge (seven points) just 15 minutes.

The Magic ripped off a 24-2 burst in the third period to push their lead to as much as 33 points. Orlando outscored San Antonio 41-17 in the third quarter. Fultz had one of the most impressive baskets of the third period, taking an outlet pass from Bamba and dunking with one hand – and with authority – as the Magic were blowing the game wide open.

``They’ve done a great job of supporting me and I feel like all of my teammates have my back,’’ said Fultz, referring to all of his Magic teammates jumping to their feet and celebrating his third-quarter dunk. ``That dunk was just one of the things that I hoped I could go and do if I got a chance to dunk the ball. It felt really good – other than getting hit in the face with the ball (after it sailed through the net). Other than that, it was really good.’’

Bamba, who starred at the University of Texas just an hour away from San Antonio, was the Magic’s standout of the first half. Stronger and in much better shape than last season when he mostly struggled through his rookie season, Bamba did a little bit of everything as the Magic grabbed a 59-50 lead.

In 11 first-half minutes on the floor, Bamba contributed 10 points, four rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot. The 7-footer had a dazzling stretch in the second quarter when he drilled a 19-foot jumper, followed up a Terrence Ross miss for a thunderous dunk and then drilled a straight-on 3-pointer. As if that wasn’t enough, Bamba also swatted a Derrick White with such force that the basketball ended up in AT&T Center crowd.

Fultz checked into the game late in the first quarter and immediately looked for his shot in the Magic offense. After misfiring on his first two attempts, Fultz’s first points in a Magic uniform came off a turnaround jump shot early in the second quarter. And in the second half he helped the Magic show off their depth by leading the second unit to a blowout victory.

``I think it just shows you how versatile this team is,’’ Fultz said of the variety of weapons that the Magic can throw at foes. ``From the starters all the way to through the end of the bench, when we come into the game, we don’t want to let it down and just pick it up. I think the starters know that we have their backs and we just want to try and push the intensity even more.’’

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