Magic Finish Regular Season With Win Over Pelicans

by Josh Cohen

The Lead

To have success in their upcoming first round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks, the league’s No. 1 defensive team, the Orlando Magic are going to have to shoot the lights out from 3-point range. That’s what they did on Thursday in their final seeding game, as the Magic buried 15 triples, 13 before halftime, in a 133-127 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Nikola Vucevic, who led Orlando with 23 points, made three 3-pointers, while Gary Clark, Wes Iwundu, James Ennis III, Melvin Frazier Jr. and B.J. Johnson each knocked down two of them.

The Top Storyline

Getting into a rhythm from beyond the arc before the playoffs begin was critical for the Magic, who prior to Thursday’s game had made just 82 of their 246 tries (33.3 percent) during the season restart at Disney. That seeding game 3-point percentage rose to 35.4 percent after sinking 15 of their 28 3-point attempts against the Pelicans. Astonishing considering they had the NBA’s best overall defense during the regular season, the Bucks gave up more threes than any other team. Opponents averaged 14 3-point makes per game against Milwaukee, 16.6 in the Bucks’ losses and 13.3 in their wins.

The Key Stats

More on the 3-pointers. The 13 threes the Magic made before intermission was tied for the most in a half in franchise history. It was actually the second time this season they drilled 13 triples in a half. On Feb. 10 against the Hawks, Orlando knocked down 13 of them after halftime. Another time they made 13 3-pointers in a half was on Jan. 13, 2009 against the Kings. That night in Sacramento, the Magic ended up making 23 threes, an NBA record at the time. The 43 points the Magic scored in the second quarter against the Pelicans was the most points Orlando has ever scored in a second quarter.

The Sidebar

Markelle Fultz returned to the starting lineup for the first time since the season resumed. The 6-foot-3, 209-pounder played in 72 of the Magic’s 73 games this year, starting in 60 of them. He finished Thursday’s game with 11 points and five assists. D.J. Augustin, who started in Orlando’s first seven games of the restart, came off the bench and tallied 22 points. Still out of action were Aaron Gordon (hamstring), Evan Fournier (illness), Terrence Ross (quarantine) and Michael Carter-Williams (foot). The hope is that they will all be ready for the start of the playoffs.

The Top Performer

New Orleans didn’t have an answer for Vucevic, who finished with 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the field. Looking ahead now to his individual matchup against Brook Lopez, a familiar foe. The two have matched up 20 times in their careers. Vucevic averaged 19.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists in those meetings, while Lopez averaged 15.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. Three times against Lopez, twice when Lopez was with the Nets and once since he’s been on the Bucks, Vucevic posted 27 points.

Quote of the Night

“We are definitely going to be considered an underdog, which is fine. Nobody expected us to be here again. Same thing like last year. We are proud of ourselves for making it to the playoffs this year, but at the end of the day we have a lot to accomplish. We’re not satisfied with just making it anymore. That was great last year. But this year we have a different mindset. We want to go further and be more successful in the playoffs.” - Augustin

Up Next

The Magic-Bucks series tips off on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. Three of the first four games of the series will start in the afternoon. The series will be a traditional best-of-seven and they will play every other day. Milwaukee won all four regular season meetings against Orlando. The last time they played was on Feb. 8 at Amway Center.

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