Magic’s Defense Slips in Loss to Kings

by Josh Cohen

The Lead

It was clear shortly after the opening tip who the fresher team was in Wednesday’s game at Amway Center between the Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings. Having been off since Friday, the Kings played with more energy and purpose than the Magic, who trailed by as much as 22 in their 121-107 loss. Nikola Vucevic led four Magic players in double figures with 26 points, while Evan Fournier scored 25 and Terrence Ross had 16.

Top Performers

There aren’t many pairs around the league who have better chemistry than Vucevic and Fournier, teammates in Orlando since 2014. The two were sharp, as they usually are, in pick-and-roll action on Wednesday. They combined for 51 points on 18-of-33 shooting.

Key Stats

Normally the Magic are very disciplined on defense by avoiding silly, costly fouls and getting back in transition to stop opponents from scoring on the run. But, that wasn’t the case on Wednesday as they were whistled for 23 fouls, nearly six more than their season average, and allowed the Kings to score 15 fast break points. Sacramento was also scorching hot from 3-point distance, burying 14 of its 33 attempts.

Key Stretch

After a Vucevic AND-1 pulled the Magic within 12 with a little under nine minutes left in the fourth, the Kings responded with eight unanswered points. Buddy Hield, who scored a game-high 29 points, drilled two of his seven 3-pointers during that stretch and Harrison Barnes connected on a floater in the lane.

Player Spotlight

What you know you’re going to get from Khem Birch, regardless of how else he impacts the game, is hustle and effort. Although Orlando as a team was out-rebounded by Sacramento, the 6-foot-9, 233-pounder put in work on the glass, especially on the offensive end where he hauled down 10 of his 14 rebounds. It was the first time a Magic player had 10 or more offensive boards in a game since Vucevic had 11 of them against the Heat on Nov. 22, 2014.

Rookie Watch

Wednesday’s matchup featured two of the top 15 picks in the 2020 draft. Tyrese Haliburton, selected 12th by the Kings, and Cole Anthony, the 15th pick by the Magic, both struggled. Haliburton shot just 3-of-11 from the field, finishing with seven points and seven assists, and Anthony, coming off a career-best 21-point performance on Monday against the Hornets, made two of his nine shots and also had seven points to go along with three rebounds and six assists.

Quote of the Night

“The first quarter was obviously the biggest problem. To me, it was our transition defense again. They had us on our heels the whole first seven, eight minutes. We had stretches of the game where we got it down to a workable margin. I just told the guys – the offensive rebounding is helping our offense but we don’t play with nearly the discipline (that’s necessary). We need to do both right now.” – Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford

Up Next

The Magic will look to bounce back on Friday when they welcome the L.A. Clippers to town. Tip-off will be at 8 p.m. It is unclear who will be available for L.A. Both of their perennial All-Stars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, did not play on Tuesday in the Clippers’ loss to the Hawks due to health and safety protocols. They also didn’t have defensive ace Patrick Beverley, who is nursing a knee injury. L.A. will visit Miami on Thursday, so we will likely have a better idea of who could potentially be suiting up for them before they arrive in Central Florida.

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