ORLANDO - The Orlando Magic’s best quarter so far this season has been the fourth. In those final 12 minutes, they are averaging 36.5 points while shooting 57 percent from the field, both league highs.
In all four of their games, the Magic have outscored their opponent by at least nine points in the final frame – 10 against the Miami Heat, nine in the first meeting against the Washington Wizards, 24 in the second, and nine against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 24-point differential against Washington in Sunday’s win was tied for the third largest in a fourth quarter favoring Orlando in team history, per Stathead. On Dec. 23, 1994, the Magic outscored the Milwaukee Bucks by 26 in that period. They did the same on Nov. 8, 2019 against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Magic are the only team this year to score at least 30 points in the fourth in all of their games. They did this only 18 times in 2019-20.
Nikola Vucevic, in particular, has been incredibly effective down the stretch. He’s averaging 6.3 of his 20.0 points per game in the fourth, tied with Markelle Fultz for the most on the Magic in those last 12 minutes. Among all players in the league who have taken 15 shots or more in the fourth so far this season, Orlando’s starting center has the best field goal percentage (66.7 percent).
“In the last few games, in the fourth quarter we’re just able to bring it all together,” said Vucevic, now the franchise’s all-time leader in field goals made after passing Nick Anderson on Tuesday night in OKC. “Get stops, rebound the ball and offensively execute the way we need to do…It’s good that we come together when it’s most important but also we can’t just expect to play okay through three quarters and then (think) like we’re going pick it up in the fourth. We’re not that team. So hopefully we can do that earlier and be more consistent throughout the game.”
Perhaps most impressive about the Magic in the fourth quarter this season has been their 3-point defense. Opponents are shooting just 18.2 percent from downtown in that period, third lowest in the league. The Thunder went 2-of-8 from 3-point distance in the fourth on Tuesday.
Another big factor has been Orlando’s ability to knock down free throws late in these games. The Magic are averaging 7.3 made free throws in the fourth, currently fourth best in the NBA. In the second meeting against the Wizards, they buried 37 of their 38 foul shots for the entire game. It was only the ninth time in NBA history, per Stathead, that a team shot at least 97 percent from the line with at least 37 makes. The only other time it happened in the last 20 years was on Dec. 22, 2000 when the Indiana Pacers drilled 40 of their 41 foul shots against the Utah Jazz.
Head Coach Steve Clifford says part of the reason the Magic are getting to the line more, although they did only take 16 of them in OKC, is that they are making a more concerted effort to drive the ball to the basket.
“There’s things at the offensive end that we had to carry over from last year after the All-Star break,” he said before Tuesday’s game. “One is pace of play, you know our pace of play is up. And the other one is, just simply put, is driving the ball. It’s been a big emphasis from the first day of training camp is how well we are playing without the ball to create more driving gaps when we catch it, so we do have the ball going to the basket more.”
Interestingly enough, the Magic’s next opponent, the Philadelphia 76ers, have been outstanding defensively in fourth quarters this season. Their opponents are averaging just 21.5 points in that period, second fewest in the league, on 40.3 percent shooting from the floor.
For the Magic to remain undefeated, it’s going to be important for them to get off to a good start in their upcoming showdown against the 3-1 Sixers at Amway Center on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
“The ceiling is very high for this team,” Fultz said. “We still got guys trying to figure out stuff. We still are trying to get to playing our style of basketball. Being help for each other, move the ball and just play Orlando Magic basketball. It’s very exciting to be 4-0. That’s what our goal is, to come out every night and win. To be able to have four wins, and especially go on a road trip and go 3-0, is huge for us and we have to keep improving and growing.”