Magic Now Look to Keep Hot Streak Going On Road
Magic begin four-game road trip on Wednesday in Toronto
ORLANDO – Their goals of getting their season back on track and reestablishing their supremacy at the Amway Center completed, the Orlando Magic are about to tackle another task on their to-do list in the days ahead.
The Magic (6-7) now must try and replicate their stellar play of late at home while on the road, where they are one of just two NBA teams that has yet to win away from home.
In defeating the Washington Wizards 125-121 on Sunday night, Orlando pushed its winning streak to three and concluded the longest home stand of the season with a 4-1 mark. Now comes the hard part as the Magic hit the road for nine nights and four games starting on Wednesday in Toronto against the Raptors.
The Magic have taken advantage of their home-heavy schedule early in the season by going 6-3 at the Amway Center. However, they have yet to win away from the Amway Center, dropping games in Atlanta, Toronto, Oklahoma City and Dallas thus far. Some of the reason for that, of course, comes down to opportunity as Phoenix (2-1) is the only team that has played fewer road games that the Magic (0-4) and Thunder (0-4).
Once again resembling the team that made a late-season push to the playoffs last spring, the Magic must hit the road and prove their mettle against the Toronto Raptors (Wednesday), Indiana Pacers (Saturday), Detroit Pistons (Nov. 25) and Cleveland Cavaliers (Nov. 27).
``We’ve only played four games (on the road) and we haven’t won any,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, who had 25 points, a season-best nine assists and five 3-pointers in Sunday’s defeat of Washington. ``Last year, when we made that playoff run, we were extremely good on the road. We said (then), `Defense travels,’ and we’re going to see about that now. But it’s a big stretch (of games coming up) for us.’’
The biggest revelation to come out of a home stand in which the Magic whipped Memphis, rallied past Philadelphia and San Antonio in two fourth quarters and outlasted pesky Washington was the team’s offense coming back to life. Last in the league in nearly major offensive category after the first eight games of the season, the Magic shot 45.7 percent from the floor, connected on 36.2 percent of their 3-point range and averaged 113.6 points during the past five games. Most impressive is the fact that their offensive rating (114.7 points per 100 possessions) ranks fourth in the NBA from Nov. 8-17.
Three pillars of the offense – center Nikola Vucevic, top reserve Terrence Ross and Fournier – used the extended time at home to find their shooting strokes. Over the past five games, Vucevic (21.2 points per game, 53.1 percent shooting and nine-of-17 accuracy on threes), Fournier (21 points per game, 54.7 percent shooting and 19-of-31 accuracy on threes) and Ross (15 points per game, 48.8 percent shooting and nine-of-26 accuracy on threes) ignited the offense with their stellar shooting.
On Sunday against Washington, Vucevic compiled 30 points, 17 rebounds and six assists. Only five players in the 31-year history of the Magic have notched games with at least 30 points, 15 rebounds and five assists – Shaquille O’Neal (three times), Tobias Harris (once), Dwight Howard (once) and Tracy McGrady (once) are the others – and Vucevic leads the way with four such performances.
It also aided the offense that point guards Markelle Fultz and D.J. Augustin played well during the home spree. Fultz, one of the heroes of Sunday’s win with his spectacular play on both ends of the floor, averaged 11 points, 2.8 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 50 percent from the floor over the past five games, while Augustin gave the Magic 11.2 points, 4.6 assists and six 3-point makes at the Amway Center.
Fultz, 21, had the best night of young NBA career on Sunday when he opened the game against a disbelieving Washington defense with two 3-point makes and he scored a career-best 19 points. His signature play in a Magic uniform came in the final minute when he deflected a Bradley Beal pass, tipped it over Isaiah Thomas’ head and then dunked over 6-foot-10 forward Davis Bertans.
``Shoot, that’s one of the tops,’’ Fultz said when asked where that moment ranked among his NBA highlights over the past three seasons. ``Any time you get a chance to make a big-time play in a clutch moment, it’s up there for one of the tops.’’
Augustin shook off a dislocated pinkie finger on his left hand in Sunday’s game, but the news wasn’t as good for reserve guard Michael Carter-Williams, who stained his left hip and wasn’t able to return. His availability for the upcoming road trip is in question and so, too, it for forward Jonathan Isaac. Isaac, who ranks second in the NBA in blocked shots per game (2.88), missed his second straight game on Sunday because of an ankle sprain.
Greater tests are ahead on the road, but the magic will take with them the momentum of a 4-1 home stand where they seemed to have regained their confidence and rhythm offensively. Now, must try and replicate that same sort of success in hostile road environments in Toronto, Indiana, Detroit and Cleveland.
``It was good, good to get back on track, get some momentum behind us and make it hard for anybody to come in here (to Orlando) and win, so we all played well,’’ Ross said. ``It’s always tough to win on the road, but with the momentum that we have now and the way that we’re playing, there’s no other way we’d rather be feeling than this when going on the road.’’
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