Postgame Report: Magic 122, Wolves 112

by John Denton

ORLANDO – While the Orlando Magic made a landmark trade on Thursday afternoon that could go a long way toward brightening their future, the present-day Magic similarly made some impressive moves that just might enhance their playoff chances.

Just hours after the franchise boldly traded for point guard Markelle Fultz – the No. 1 overall pick from the 2017 NBA Draft – the Magic went out and played with conviction and precision. Orlando scored a season-best 71 points in the first half, needed just three quarters to register 102 and held on the fourth for a 122-112 defeat of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In a time in the season with so many potential distractions – the dizzying trade deadline hit on Thursday and the break for NBA All-Star Weekend is less than a week away – the Magic (23-32) showed some of their best focus on the season.

``We showed a level of professionalism and attention to detail, and no matter how hectic stuff gets, we’ve got to come out and do our jobs,’’ said Terrence Ross, who scored a season-best 32 points and drilled six 3-pointers. ``When we play the right way, these are the types of things that can happen for us. We just have to pay attention more to what’s getting us to where we are. I think it’s just more important to grow from that and come back hungry to learn.’’

Orlando (23-32) shot a torrid 61.3 percent through three quarters and finished at 54.2 percent for the game. It hit 11 of 26 3-pointers to lead by as much as 20 points over Minnesota (25-29), losers in five of the past six games.

Nikola Vucevic (21 points and 10 rebounds) waged battle all night against fellow all-star big man Karl-Anthony Towns (27 points and 11 rebounds). Evan Fournier (18 points on eight of 13 shooting) and Aaron Gordon (19 points, six rebounds and five assists) also played extremely well, while Jonathan Isaac (nine points and six rebounds) and D.J. Augustin (six points and six assists) rounded out Orlando’s attack.

``We talked about it to make sure that we don’t let stuff from the outside distract us,’’ said Vucevic, who was selected by Milwaukee Bucks’ superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday to play on his Team Giannis in the Feb. 17 NBA All-Star Game. ``With the All-Star break coming up we talked about not letting our minds go on vacation early. It was an important game for us to defend home court before going on the road. Now, we have to keep that same intensity over these next four games before we go into the All-Star break.’’

Earlier in the day, less than an hour before the NBA trade deadline, the Magic boldly dealt for the dynamic, but mercurial Fultz. Orlando had to surrender reserve guard Jonathon Simmons, a protected first-round pick from the 2020 NBA Draft and a second-round selection from the draft coming up in June for the flashy point guard.

Fultz, a 6-foot-4, 200-pounder, has played in just 19 games this season because of a shoulder injury that severely affected his shooting stroke. He hasn’t played since Nov. 19 and on Dec. 4 he was deemed to be suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome, an impingement issue in either the blood vessels or nerves that run through a specific space between the neck and shoulders.

``First, it will start with getting to know him and making sure that he’s comfortable here,’’ said Magic coach Steve Clifford, who plans to use the upcoming five-night, three-game road trip to study game footage of Fultz in action. ``The biggest thing, when he gets here, is to make sure that we have a good idea of what he feels his strengths and weaknesses are and how he feels he plays best. Then, like I said, we’ll have some more background work so that we can give our opinions and I’ll give him my opinion. That’s how you start to come to a (similar) place.’’

It is uncertain when Fultz will join the Magic what with the team about to depart on a road trip with games in Milwaukee (Saturday), Atlanta (Sunday) and New Orleans (Tuesday). Also, it remains to be seen as to when Fultz will be medically cleared to play – this season or next. Vucevic, who was traded from Philadelphia to Orlando himself back in 2012, said the second-year player will be warmly welcomed and will be given chances to shine in Orlando.

``Obviously, I don’t know everything that went into (Fultz’s struggles in Philadelphia), but sometimes it happens,’’ Vucevic said. ``Guys that come from Philly to Orlando, it seems to work out pretty well. So, it might just work out for him as well.’’

Minnesota forward Dario Saric, who had 17 points and three 3-pointers, played with Fultz for parts of the past two seasons. He feels the move to Orlando will be a good one for the talented point guard. After all, the 76ers run mostly a motion offense, while Fultz’s skills tend to shine more in pick-and-roll based attacks.

``About Markelle, he needed a fresh start,’’ Saric said. ``He couldn’t find himself with the Sixers to play. In my opinion, they play different basketball than Markelle needs. Markelle is best with the ball and I think the opportunity to come here to Orlando to have the ball in his hands (will be better). … Really, what I am saying is the sky is the limit (for Fultz). He is a very, very, very talented guy.’’

Ross, whom the Magic hung onto through Thursday’s trade deadline despite his looming free agency in July, scored 13 points in the second quarter to help the Magic build a comfortable lead. Ross, who had 26 points on Tuesday in Oklahoma City, made 13 of 23 shots and six of 13 3-point shots against the slumping Timberwolves.

``Going through a trade is difficult because you have to re-adjust and everything is all new again. So, to stay in the same spot is really nice,’’ Ross said. ``It helps me stay in rhythm. I wouldn’t say (he was) worried, but more so cautious. I was just alert to what was going on.’’

Andrew Wiggins chipped in 23 points for Minnesota, which shot 46.5 percent from the floor but had problems defensively all night. Ross chased Wiggins down with 2:19 to play and disrupted his dunk attempt – but wasn’t credited for a blocked shot – after Minnesota had climbed back to within 117-109 of the Magic.

Thursday’s game was the final meeting of the season between the two franchise’s that came into the NBA together in 1989. When they last played in Minnesota on Jan. 4, Orlando sprinted to a 19-point lead in the game’s first 17 minutes, but it ultimately came apart in the second half of a 17-point defeat.

A week after being named an NBA All-Star for the first time in his NBA career, Vucevic found out on Thursday who his teammates would be for the Feb. 17 exhibition game in Charlotte. Not only was Vucevic picked to be a part of Team Giannis, but he will get to play alongside of boyhood hero Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas) and close friend Nikola Jokic (Denver).

``It’ll be fun, it’ll be exciting. We have a lot of bigs on our team, so we might go old-school and pound the ball inside all game,’’ Vucevic joked.

Up 13 at the half, the Magic made sure there would be no comebacks by the Timberwolves this time around by scoring another 31 points in the third. Through three periods, the Magic had made a scorching-hot 61.3 percent of their shots. They made nine of their first 16 attempts from 3-point range.

For a second straight game, the Magic set a season-high for points in the first half. Orlando shot 65.2 percent over the first 24 minutes to build a 71-58 halftime lead on the Minnesota. Ross scored 13 second-quarter points and had 11 straight at one point to help the Magic build their comfortable lead.
With Thursday’s victory, Orlando moved into sole possession of the 10thseed in the Eastern Conference and within 3 ½ games of No. 8 Miami. With ninth-seeded Washington trading several key pieces prior to the trade deadline, the Magic could be in position to make a run at the Heat and the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

``We’ve just got to keep playing the way that we’re playing – moving the ball, playing together, playing defense, locking in and playing for 48 (minutes),’’ Ross said. ``Then, eventually, things will start going our way (consistently).’’

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.

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