Magic Open Season Restart With Big Win Over Nets

by Josh Cohen

The Lead

The Orlando Magic had the NBA’s No. 1 offense over their final 12 games before the hiatus. Many, however, wondered if the 4 ½ month break would throw off their rhythm. That certainly wasn’t the case in their first game of the NBA season restart, as the Magic shot 52.9 percent from the floor and dished out 31 assists in Friday’s 128-118 victory over the Brooklyn Nets. Orlando is now a half-game ahead of Brooklyn for the seventh spot in the East.

The Top Performers

Several Magic players deserve a mention here. Five of them scored in double figures, most made at least 50 percent of their shot attempts and a few came up with big defensive plays, even though the team’s defense was subpar for much of the first half. The one who really helped the Magic stay composed after they fell behind by eight in the first quarter was Nikola Vucevic, who stuffed the stat sheet with 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Evan Fournier also looked like he was in mid-season form, finishing with 24 points on 10-of-15 overall shooting and 3-of-6 3-point shooting. A few of the reserves were fantastic, too, as Khem Birch provided a spark with 12 points, four rebounds and five assists and Jonathan Isaac, playing in just his second game since injuring his left knee on New Year’s Day, scored 16 points in only 16 minutes.

The Key Stretch

Up by just four with two minutes left in the second quarter, the Magic closed the half on a 9-2 run and then opened the third quarter with a 10-2 burst to pull away from the Nets. During that stretch, Fournier knocked down three shots, including two from beyond the arc. Orlando, which led by as much as 30 in the third, also turned up its defense a few notches after Brooklyn got off to a hot start, holding the Nets to just 15-of-43 overall shooting (34.9 percent) and 4-of-20 3-point shooting (20 percent) in the second and third quarters combined.

The Key Stats

It’s hard to believe, just based on how scorching hot they were all afternoon, that the Magic hadn’t played a meaningful game since March 10. Orlando shot 60.9 percent in the first half, its best shooting mark in a first half this season. The Magic were even better in the third quarter when they scored 41 points, tied for the most points this season in a third period. Now in their last 13 games, which goes back to Feb. 10, the Magic are shooting 48.9 percent from the field, the second best clip in the NBA behind the Nuggets during this span.

The Big Picture

The goal for the Magic is to be in the seventh spot in the East at the end of the seeding games. That would lock them in to the playoffs for a second straight year. With Friday’s win, they now have a half-game edge over the Nets. The two teams will play again in a couple weeks. Not only would the team who finishes in seventh avoid a potential play-in tournament against the Wizards (if the Wizards are within four games of eighth), they would also likely dodge the 53-12 Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

Quote of the Night

“Offensively, we were able to really execute the game plan and do what coach wanted us to do. It started with us being patient, making sure we make the right reads, we make the right plays and we did that. I feel like we did that for almost 48 minutes. It’s just our defense wasn’t ready to go at the start of the game. Obviously, when you score 128, it’s a great offensive night.” Vucevic on his team’s stellar offensive performance on Friday against Brooklyn

Up Next

The Magic are back in action on Sunday when they take on the Sacramento Kings at 6 p.m. ET. Like the Magic, the Kings were playing their best basketball of the season before the hiatus. They won 11 of their last 17, shooting 39.7 percent from 3-point range during that stretch, second best in the league. A key matchup will be at the shooting guard spot as Fournier will go head-to-head against Bogdan Bogdanovic, who is averaging 14.5 points in his third NBA season.

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