Orlando Magic Showing Poise in Tight Games Down the Stretch

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - The Orlando Magic continue to be one of the best fourth-quarter teams in the NBA this season. They have the second-best offensive rating in those final 12 minutes at 114.3, one-tenth of a point behind the top-ranked Utah Jazz.

Their defense hasn’t been too shabby either in the final frame, ranking ninth at 105.3. The only four teams in the NBA who rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency in the fourth are the Magic, Jazz, Bulls and Spurs.

More impressive, though, is how well the Magic have played in tight games down the stretch. In the last three minutes of games with the Magic either ahead by five or less or behind by five or less, they are shooting a league-best 60.7 percent from the field (17-of-28). When the game has been tied in those final three minutes, they have made 50 percent of their shot attempts.

In their thrilling victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday at Amway Center, this clutch gene was on display. Over the last five minutes, the Magic made five of their seven shots. Cole Anthony, back after a six-game absence due to a sprained right ankle, knocked down two of them. Wendell Carter Jr., who also played outstanding defense on Nikola Jokic, connected on a layup. Franz Wagner, an early-season Rookie of the Year candidate, made two baskets, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:45 remaining.

“I came off a pick-and-roll, probably should have passed it earlier. They kind of messed up a switch or something and yeah, I was just open and shot a three,” Wagner said of that big 3-pointer. “It obviously felt really good. It was a close game. We needed a run really bad, and the crowd was into it, and I was really hyped. So, it was a lot of fun.”

In two straight games, the Magic have erased 16-point first-half deficits. Unable to fend off the Philadelphia 76ers in the prior contest, they managed to bounce back with a brilliant down-the-stretch performance with Denver in town.

While getting hot late obviously propelled them, it was their tenacious defensive effort that kept the Magic in the game.

“Just the energy, and the attention to the physicality, and the fight defensively,” Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley said. “You talk about the third and the fourth quarter, two 20-point quarters defensively. We are going to continue to talk about that. On the defensive end, you give yourself a chance. It doesn’t matter if you are making or missing shots. You got to hang your hat on the defensive end.”

In their five wins combined this season, the Magic have outscored their opponents in the fourth by 63 points. That plus-12.6 average ranks No. 1 in the NBA in victories.

Important going forward is getting off to better starts. The Magic are averaging an NBA-worst 47.9 points in the first half on 40.4 percent shooting. Having Anthony back should help in the long run. The 6-foot-3 guard is averaging team highs in points (19.9) and assists (5.9).

“I was really upset at the time I got hurt too because we had just beat the Knicks. We should have beat the Brooklyn Nets. I thought we were really starting to figure it out,” he said. “I get hurt, It’s just a bad time. After that, we go to Milwaukee. Dude’s spirits are kind of down and we struggled a little bit. I just really want to get out there and help my brothers. That was the main thing. I was able to do that tonight. We were able to get a win. That’s cool stuff right there.”

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