Nikola Vucevic Scores 42, Michael Carter-Williams Terrific in Return as Shorthanded Magic Topple Kings
With how well the Orlando Magic played in the first two games of this West Coast road trip despite being abnormally undermanned, it wasn’t all that shocking they defeated the Sacramento Kings on Friday night. It was how dominant they were, with just nine healthy guys to start the game and eight by the end, that made the 123-112 win quite remarkable. Nikola Vucevic was again sensational with 42 points, his second 40-plus-point performance this season and third of his career, and Michael Carter-Williams, playing for the first time since Jan. 4, made a huge impact with 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Usually when a player comes back from a 19-game absence, he’s rusty, not in tip-top physical shape and not incredibly sharp. That was certainly not the case for Carter-Williams, who started at point guard with no other point guards available because of injuries and delivered an all-around gem. Aside from his box score contributions, the 6-foot-6, 190-pounder was, as usual, stifling on the defensive end. The 21 points he scored was not only a season high but also the most points he has ever scored in a Magic uniform. Vucevic, meanwhile, was virtually unstoppable, making 17 of his 22 shots overall and six of his eight threes. The last time a Magic player had two 40-plus-point games in the same season was in 2017-18 when Aaron Gordon did it.
The latest injury victim is James Ennis III, who suffered a strained right groin in the third quarter and was unable to return. Frank Mason III is nursing the same injury. Also still out were Evan Fournier (back spasms), Aaron Gordon (left ankle sprain), Cole Anthony (right shoulder strain) and Al-Farouq Aminu (right knee injury management). Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz, both recovering from torn ACLs, are out for the season. De’Aaron Fox (knee) and Marvin Bagley III (calf) did not play for the Kings.
The Magic’s lead went from three early in the third quarter to 20 by the five-minute mark of the period. Carter-Williams led that run, both with his scoring and passing. He had a few layups off drives during that stretch, including two that were AND-1s. He also knocked down his second 3-pointer of the season. Vucevic and Gary Clark also drilled threes in that time.
There aren’t many guys in the league who play with more hustle, effort and determination than Khem Birch. Often, it’s what doesn’t show up in the box score that is more meaningful than his stats, and an example of that came on Friday in Sacramento. His energy and fortitude is contagious, too, as the Magic were clearly the hungrier, grittier team, especially while Birch was on the floor.
The Magic always give themselves a chance when they keep their turnovers down. A staple of a Steve Clifford-coached team is taking care of the ball, and that the Magic did on Friday. Orlando coughed it up just 10 times. It was the sixth time this season the Magic committed 10 or fewer turnovers.
Quote of the Night
“At this stage of my career, I kind of have to do that (take over games). Obviously, we have guys that are down and I try to lead a team and bring it every night and hope that guys follow. I feel like I’ve earned that over the years and playing here for a while and having a successful career. I think guys do follow my lead when I play well. I’m not a huge vocal guy. I say things here and there, but I lead by example and I think guys respect that.” – Vucevic
The Magic complete their four-game West Coast trip on Sunday when they take on the Phoenix Suns at 9 p.m. ET. The Suns, who have won four straight and seven of their last eight, have vaulted up the standings this season behind their dynamic backcourt duo of Devin Booker and Chris Paul. In Phoenix’s most recent win against Milwaukee, Booker scored 30 points and Paul had 28. A key matchup, though, when the Magic come to town will be the one between the two centers, as Vucevic will go head-to-head against Deandre Ayton.