Magic’s Winning Streak Snapped With Loss to Pacers

by Josh Cohen

The Lead

As you’d expect, all of the NBA’s superstars, including James Harden, Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Luka Doncic and Devin Booker, have played well during the season restart at Walt Disney World. But none of them have been as electrifying as T.J. Warren, the Indiana Pacers’ 26-year-old forward. The Orlando Magic were the third straight opponent without an answer for the 6-foot-8, 220-pounder, who erupted for 32 points in Indiana’s 120-109 win over Orlando on Tuesday. Warren, who is in his first year with the Pacers, scored 53 and 34 in his first two games at Disney. The loss snapped the Magic’s five-game winning streak.

The Top Storyline

The Magic are 10-5 since Feb. 10 mostly because of their excellence on the offensive end. Entering Tuesday’s NBA action, Orlando ranked No. 1 in points, No. 2 in field goal percentage, No. 2 in assists and No. 8 in 3-point percentage over that span. However, the Magic’s defense hasn’t been nearly as impressive. Since Feb. 10, Orlando’s defense ranks 25th. For stretches of their wins over the Nets and Kings at Disney, the Magic’s defense was locked in. But, for the most part, that wasn’t the case against Indiana, which shot 63 percent from the field in the first half when it built a lead as large as 26. Repeatedly, the Pacers’ ball handlers beat their defenders off the dribble, which led to so many easy baskets in the paint.

The Key Stretch

In the blink of an eye the Pacers went up by double digits. Indiana scored the first 10 points of the game and went up 19-3 before five minutes had gone by in the opening frame. Despite ranking 29th in the league this season in 3-pointers made, the Pacers drilled six of them in the first seven minutes. Warren and Aaron Holiday each knocked down two threes during that span, while Myles Turner and Victor Oladipo sank one each.

The Key Stat

The Magic usually do a great job protecting the ball. They are averaging the second fewest turnovers in the league this season. However, that wasn’t the case against the Pacers, as Orlando coughed it up 18 times, with Indiana scoring 23 points off those turnovers. That’s extremely atypical for the Magic, who are the best in the NBA at limiting opponent points off turnovers.

The Top Performer

The best player at Disney so far among players who have never made an All-Star team has been Warren. The second best among that group may be Aaron Gordon, who posted 20 points and seven rebounds during Tuesday’s loss. The 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward has been playing arguably his best basketball of his career since the All-Star break, or in his case since his dazzling dunk contest performance. Over this span, he’s averaging 15.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He notched his first career triple-double against the Timberwolves on Feb. 28. Nikola Vucevic (24 points, 10 rebounds) and Terrence Ross (20 points), meanwhile, also had strong performances against the Pacers.

The Sidebar

Michael Carter-Williams, one of Orlando’s top defenders, experienced some soreness in his left foot. As a precautionary measure, he didn’t return in the second half. James Ennis III was able to return, however, after dislocating his left ring finger in the first quarter. The Magic were already shorthanded coming into the game after Jonathan Isaac tore his left ACL during Orlando’s win over Sacramento on Sunday.

Quote of the Night

“Tonight to me the whole thing totally unacceptable. We have a team who I think can be the surprise of this thing. We had been doing well. I thought our effort (tonight) was terrible. We played better as the game went on. Our defense, everything that was emphasized in the shootaround this morning they crushed us with….If we’re going to be a factor in this, we’re going to play smart and hard, and we did neither of those tonight.” – Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford

Up Next

The Magic will look to quickly forget about Tuesday’s loss when they take on the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in what could be a first round playoff preview. The Magic’s goal is to secure the seventh seed in the East, which would likely mean a first round matchup with the Raptors, the team they lost to in the first round of the postseason last year. The defending champs have shocked many by remaining title contenders even after losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in free agency last summer.

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