A Win Over Hornets Would Be Another Big Boost

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

ORLANDO – Undoubtedly, the Orlando Magic are as scorching hot as they have been all season, racking up four straight victories and winning the last three games in such lopsided fashion that they accomplished some franchise history.

What better way to test the legitimacy of those lofty accomplishments than for the suddenly surging Magic to face the team that has been their absolute arch-nemesis for more than three years?

If the Magic are going to push their winning streak to five games for the first time since 2015 and impressively close out the stretch of the schedule prior to the break for the NBA All-Star Game, they are going to have to figure out a way to solve the Charlotte Hornets once and for all on Thursday night.

Remarkably, the Magic have lost to the Hornets 13 consecutive times, including twice this season in unsightly fashion. That skid, which dates back to December of 2015 and spans a large swath of Orlando’s time rebuilding, is the third-longest active losing streak in the NBA between two teams.

For the Magic (26-32), there’s no time like the present to keep their feel-good vibes going and finally vanquish the Hornets (27-29).

``(Potentially beating Charlotte) would be extremely big for us and important, and we’re looking to get it done,’’ said Magic second-year forward Jonathan Isaac, who is coming off a career-best 20-point night in Tuesday’s rout of New Orleans. ``If we could win this one it would speak to how much better our team is playing and where our minds are at in terms of wanting to make this playoff race.’’

Charlotte might not recognize the Orlando squad that it will be facing Thursday at the Amway Center considering how dominant the Magic have been in whipping Minnesota, Milwaukee, Atlanta and New Orleans of late. Over those four games, the Magic have averaged 116.8 points while drilling 47.9 percent of their shots from the floor and 38.5 percent from 3-point range. Defensively during that stretch, Orlando is surrendering just 97.8 points, 40.8 percent total shooting and 32 percent accuracy from 3-point range.

The sharp play on both ends of the floor has led to some one-sided routs. When the Magic throttled a Milwaukee squad without injured superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo by 20, Atlanta by 16 and New Orleans by 30, it proved to be the first time in the 30-year history of the franchise that it won three straight road games by 16 or more points.

``This has been our best stretch of the season and hopefully we can keep it up because we all feel the momentum,’’ said center Nikola Vucevic, who will appear in his first NBA All-Star Game on Sunday. ``We have to stick with what we’ve been doing. We’ve had stretches where we’ve played great and stretches where we haven’t played so well, and we know that things can turn around quickly in this league and we have to stay focused. We’re still not where we want to be, so this is still a small, but great step for us and we have to keep building.’’

The torrid play of late allowed the Magic to wake up on Wednesday just two games back of No. 7 Charlotte, 1 ½ games back of No. 8 Detroit and just a half-game behind Sunshine State rival Miami. Magic head coach Steve Clifford said if 19 years of experience in the NBA have taught him anything, it’s that it’s far too early to be scoreboard-watching or investing too heavily in the NBA standings at this stage.

``Not at game (58); it’s still just about playing well and the thing I keep mentioning to them, is if we keep playing well for these next, say, 15 games, we’ll get to play meaningful games in March,’’ Clifford said. ``That’s what it’s all about. Most of the time, to be honest, you don’t even start to look at the standings until you get close to 60 games. But we’re playing better and that’s what we have to concentrate on. We’re more purposeful and we give less possessions away, and that’s how our team is going to play well.’’

Now, the Magic just have to keep it up against Charlotte. Clearly, that will be a tall order considering how the first two meetings have gone. The Hornets not only won in Orlando in the second game of the season, but they led by as much 37 points and won by 32. Things weren’t much better on Dec. 31 when the Magic played in Charlotte without then-injured point guard D.J. Augustin and lost 125-120. In those two games, Hornets all-star guard Kemba Walker – long a Magic killer – has averaged 25 points and six assists while shooting 18 of 32 from the floor (56.2 percent), seven of 15 from 3-point range (46.7 percent) and seven of seven (100 percent) from the free throw line.

Clifford, who coached previously in Charlotte for five seasons, knows it would mean a lot for the Magic to finally whip the Hornets and close out this stretch of games in impressive fashion.

``You can tell right now that we’ve got good focus and, hopefully we’ve got one more in us,’’ Clifford said. ``We’re going to have to play better. We’ve played (Charlotte) twice and they’ve beaten us badly both times. We have a day to get home, rest and get ready and then hopefully we’ve got one more good game left in us before the break.’’

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