Magic Sweep Mini-Series Against Cavs, But Lose Markelle Fultz to Torn ACL

by Josh Cohen

The Lead

The good news is the Orlando Magic came back from 12 down in the first quarter to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 105-94, and sweep their Amway Center mini-series. The bad news is they lost their starting 22-year-old point guard, Markelle Fultz, for the rest of the season due to a severe knee injury. With 7:35 left in the opening period, the 6-foot-4, 209-pounder crumbled to the floor after his left knee buckled on a drive to the hoop. Tests revealed shortly after the game that he had torn his ACL.

Top Storyline

The Magic have been unable to avoid the injury bug over the last year. Jonathan Isaac suffered a pair of left knee injuries, including an ACL tear at the Disney bubble that is keeping him out all of this season. Al-Farouq Aminu has been out for over a year with a right knee injury. Orlando was missing a few others because of injuries in its 2020 playoff series against Milwaukee, including Aaron Gordon. Chuma Okeke, who was unable to play last year after tearing his ACL in his final college game, will be out several weeks with a bone bruise in that same knee. A COVID-19 diagnosis in June caused a conditioning setback for Mo Bamba, who made his 2020-21 season debut on Monday. James Ennis III returned Wednesday after missing Orlando’s first seven games with a hamstring injury. Evan Fournier (back spasms) and Michael Carter-Williams (foot) were both out Wednesday. Now Fultz, who had a major shoulder injury while with the 76ers, hurt his knee and will be out the remainder of the season.

Top Performer

During training camp, Dwayne Bacon said he chose to join the Magic largely because of Steve Clifford, his coach during his rookie season with the Hornets. That year, which was 2017-18, Clifford and his coaching staff, several of which are currently working under Clifford in Orlando, ingrained confidence in him, which is partially why he was widely thought of as a second-round draft steal early in his career. So far with the Magic, the 6-foot-6, 220-pounder has been playing with that same swagger, which was particularly conspicuous on Wednesday when he poured in a season-high 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field.

Player Spotlight

With how good Terrence Ross has been this season, you may be wondering how many bench players have been named All-Stars in NBA history. It’s rare, but there have been a few. Chris Gatling (1996-97) and Kobe Bryant (1997-98) were All-Stars despite each starting just one game those respective seasons. Ricky Pierce came off the bench in 76 of the 78 games he appeared in during his All-Star 1990-91 campaign. Dan Majerle only started in 15 of the 82 games he played in when he was an All-Star in 1991-92. Twice, in 1983-84 and 1990-91, Kevin McHale made the All-Star Game while in a reserve role the majority of the time in those seasons. Technically, Michael Jordan (1985-86) and Alonzo Mourning (2000-01) were All-Stars in years they generally came off the bench, but both played fewer than 20 games those seasons because of injuries. Never before has a player come off the bench every game in a season they were named an All-Star, which Ross, who scored 20 points during Wednesday’s win, has a chance to accomplish.

Key Stat

Entering Wednesday’s NBA action, the Magic were tied for fifth in opponent 3-point percentage, sixth in opponent 3-pointers made and eighth in opponent 3-pointers attempted. It’s very likely they will rise in all three defensive categories after limiting the Cavs to 4-for-26 shooting from downtown. Orlando continues to do an outstanding job running shooters off the 3-point line and contesting long-distance shots. One player who has been exceptionally good challenging shots is Gary Clark, who started on Wednesday with Fournier and Carter-Williams out. Opponents have shot just 16 percent from 3-point range when the 6-foot-6, versatile forward has been the closest defender so far this season, per advanced stats.

Rookie Watch

With Fultz out, Cole Anthony will likely be the Magic’s starting point guard for the foreseeable future. He was on the floor for 32 minutes during Wednesday’s victory, scoring eight points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing out three assists. Taking charges is a strength of his, which he’s already done four times this season. A supremely confident 20-year-old, Anthony will have plenty of opportunity to develop his skills while playing big minutes moving forward.

Quote of the Night

“If anybody can handle this, it’s ‘Kelle. He got the heart of a lion. He’s super talented. He’s always positive. I know he’ll be able to handle this and we all got his back. We’ll all be here for him. Be a part of that family and make sure he’s good. You hate to see this, especially for a guy that already fought through so much and then came back and was balling. And now this. But, it’s just one of those things. It’s going to make you stronger. He’s going to come back from it. I have no doubt.” – Ross right after hearing about Fultz’s ACL tear diagnosis

Up Next

The Magic (6-2) will now head out of town for a two-game road trip. First up will be James Harden and the Rockets, who were in action against the Pacers on Wednesday night. Houston features a few new faces, including John Wall and Christian Wood, both of whom have gotten off to excellent starts. Tip-off for this contest will be 8 p.m. on Friday. Immediately after, the Magic will take a short flight to Dallas, where they will face Luka Doncic and the Mavs on Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

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