Magic Look to Snap Losing Skid to Pacers

by John Denton

ORLANDO – From their previous six seasons of struggles and rebuilding, the Orlando Magic have been saddled with some lengthy losing streaks against rival teams who have haunted them for years.

One by one, the Magic have been able to eliminate some of those unsightly skids with some gritty, much-improved play this season. However, a few of those losing streaks remain – such as the lopsided one against tonight’s opponent, the Indiana Pacers.

When the Magic (12-13) face the Pacers (14-10) tonight at the Amway Center, they will be out to end a seven-game losing skid that dates back to March of 2016. Also, they haven’t beaten the Pacers in Orlando since February of 2014 – a streak that also spans seven games.

``You never want to have a streak like that where you have a really bad record against teams, especially if it’s more than a couple of games in a row,’’ said standout center Nikola Vucevic, who has seen his Magic drop 14 of the last 15 meetings against Indiana and 18 of 20 since 2013. ``They’re a good team and they play very well together. I know they’re missing (Victor Oladipo), who is their best player and is a huge part of what they’re doing, but they’ve got a lot of good players on that team and they defend really well.’’

Oladipo, a standout with the Magic from 2013-16, leads the Pacers in scoring (21.4) and assists (4.7) and ranks second on the team in rebounding (6.6) and steals (1.56). However, he hasn’t played since No. 17 because of a sore knee and the Pacers recently announced that the all-star guard would continue to out as he tries to rehabilitate his way back into form.

Still, the Pacers have been able to hold it together without Oladipo. They are 6-4 in their last 10 games, beat Chicago 96-90 on Tuesday and has the second most road victories (seven) in the Eastern Conference.

``Victor is a terrific two-way player, but they have good defenders (without Oladipo),’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said. ``It starts with ball pressure and they are so disciplined. So, think about where they are: They are top-five (defensively), they don’t foul and they don’t give up points at the basket and they get every defensive rebound. It’s very difficult to do every one of those things, so it’s a combination of good personnel and good schemes that fit their team very well.’’

As if beating the Pacers isn’t motivation enough for the Magic, they will be trying to get back to their winning ways after dropping a 124-118 overtime heartbreaker against the surging Denver Nuggets on Wednesday. In that game, Orlando got a tying 3-pointer from Terrence Ross with 6.1 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime. However, the Magic made just one of nine shots in the extra period.

``You have to use games like that as fuel,’’ Magic point guard D.J. Augustin said. ``It kind of lingered around in my head (on Thursday) thinking about, `Man, we should have won that game.’ But it’s a long season, we play a lot of games and play back-to-backs, so we’re right back at it. We have to put that (Denver loss) behind us and get ready for tonight.’’

Another key motivating factor for the Magic: They leave on Sunday for another extended road trip and know they must do better at home if they want to make a run at the playoffs this season. An impressive 6-6 on the road, the Magic are a game under .500 at home (6-7) and have a chance to even their record at the Amway Center before heading out on the road to play games in Dallas (versus the Mavericks on Monday) and Mexico City (versus Chicago on Thursday and versus Utah on Dec. 15). Orlando will be designated as the home team in the two games in Mexico City next week.

``It’s going to be a tough game for us tonight, but we have to defend home court and try to get a win before we go on the road to play home games,’’ Vucevic said.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.