Orlando Magic at Indiana Pacers: Game Preview

Magic at Pacers
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- With a thrilling buzzer-beating victory under their belts, the Orlando Magic will attempt to carry that momentum into a Friday night clash with the Indiana Pacers at 7 p.m. ET.

The Magic got the jolt in the arm their squad so desperately needed against the Timberwolves on Wednesday when Cole Anthony collected a rebound off Jarred Vanderbilt’s second straight missed free throw attempt with 4.6 seconds left on the clock, stormed down the court, and connected on an acrobatic 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of Josh Okogie as time expired to give Orlando a victory and snap a six-game losing skid.

“I saw the ball come to me, I really wasn’t expecting to get it, I was just going to do whatever I can to help the team win,” Anthony explained of his last second heroics. “I saw the ball come and I was like alright, bet. Grabbed the ball, dribbled up the court, and (I realized) I probably won’t be able to get to the rim, but I can shoot this three. It felt good. I really didn’t even see the shot after I shot it, unit I saw it go through the net.”

Both the on-court and locker room celebrations that subsequently ensued were beyond joyous and much-needed for a team that recently dealt with their fair share of injuries and tough defeats.

“Guys were just letting go of everything and just really celebrating,” Magic center Nikola Vucevic said. “It’s great to see, to see the happiness, to see how guys care. They really wanted to win, and it showed. … It’s one of the best moments you can have.”

Equally impressive to Anthony’s last-second shot was Orlando’s response as a team to a disastrous second quarter where they were outscored 30-10. Instead of sulking and letting the game get away, the Magic put together a strong second half showing, outscored the Timberwolves 29-19 over the final 12 minutes, and rode the clutch 3-point shooting of Anthony, Aaron Gordon, and Evan Fournier, who returned from a nine-game absence, on their way to an exhilarating triumph.

“The bigger reason that we won was instead of hanging their heads at halftime and worrying about what was obviously a really poorly played second quarter, we came out with good energy, we played off our defense and that’s what our identity is going to have to be,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford explained. “I think that’s something we can build off of.”

Orlando must certainly hope that it builds the confidence of its rookie floor general who’s had so much thrust on his plate. Due to a season-ending injury to Markelle Fultz, Anthony has had to take on a bigger role after being drafted just months ago, and adjust to not having a summer league, a truncated training camp, and playing in a shortened preseason.

“I think a shot (like that) can only help you,” Clifford said. “He’s a confident guy, and I thought (Wednesday) before watching the film, I thought he played a much more complete game.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s a weird feeling. You’re riding the roller coaster with him. You’re seeing, you should do this, you should do that, and things aren’t necessarily going the way you want. You can see the confidence wasn’t where you’d like to see it, and that’s to be expected. But he stayed patient. The big three he hit also was right before (the game-winner) on a play from James Ennis on a kick-out, he hit a three from (the corner) the possession prior. And then to be able to get that one. That play happens because he’s probably not thinking. And sometimes when you’re struggling, you’re thinking a little too much, and that was just reactionary. It was awesome to see, man. The team needed it. And just to see the reaction from the guys in a game where they really did not look good for three quarters, to be able to come back and get that win, I’m just so happy for him and them.” – NBA TV analyst Greg Anthony, who played 11 seasons in the league, on his son’s game-winning shot.

KEY STAT: The old saying goes, “the stats don’t lie.” However, it should also be noted that sometimes they’re incorrect. After a standard review by the NBA of the Magic’s road game against the New York Knicks on Jan. 18, an assist on a Terrence Ross shot with 11:09 left in the fourth quarter was improperly given to Ennis and should have been credited to Gordon.

As a result, Gordon’s statline for that contest is now 18 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 assists, giving him second triple-double of his career. It just goes to show that the final box score isn’t necessarily final.

INJURY UPDATE: Michael Carter-Williams (sprained left foot) has continued to make progress, recently participating in non-contact portions of practice. Clifford expects him to be the next player on the injury report to return and it could come as soon as tonight against the Pacers. The versatile defender and potential back-up point guard is listed as questionable.

Al-Farouq Aminu (right knee rehabilitation), Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), Chuma Okeke (left knee bone bruise) and Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation) are all out. Mo Bamba (non-team contact tracing) did not travel with the team and will not play in Indiana.

For the Pacers, Myles Turner (right hand avulsion fracture) is questionable, while Caris LeVert (medical condition) and T.J. Warren (left foot stress fracture) are out.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, I brought in special guest, Wheat Hotchkiss, who covers the Pacers for Pacers.com. He’s been with the team since the start of the 2012-13 season and was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about their squad:

Savage: “For Magic fans who haven’t watched too much of the Pacers this season, what are some of the strengths of this team and what have been some of the challenges?”

Hotchkiss: “I think the strengths would start with the continuity. Originally, before the (Victor) Oladipo trade, we brought back the top thirteen players from last year’s team in terms of minutes played and scoring average. They have a new head coach in Nate Bjorkgren, who’s brought some innovation to this team. They’re playing faster. They were thirtieth in three-point attempts last year. They’re shooting threes more, but they’re also emphasizing minimizing mid-range shots and getting to the rim a lot more, which they’ve done with a lot of success. Then defensively, Indiana has always been a good defensive team, but they’ve always been a traditional man-to-man, straight up team. They don’t switch a lot. Nate Bjorkgren’s philosophy is really to be disruptive, is what he likes to say. So, he’ll switch it up. One possession, they’ll be playing man and the next they’ll be playing zone. They’ve thrown out some box-and-one and triangle-and-two with some success against the likes of Steph Curry and Damian Lillard. So, I think the team’s been off to a really strong start overall. Injuries have been the biggest thing that’s bit the team. T.J. Warren was the leading scorer last year and he’s out for a couple of months. Myles Turner, the leading shot blocker in the NBA right now, has a minor fracture in his hand which doesn’t seem like it’s going to sideline him too long. They’ve had a number of guys who’ve been banged up – thankfully no COVID outbreaks or anything – and the hope is that everyone is going to be healthy for the second half of the season and through the playoffs.”

Savage: “As you look at Malcolm Brogdon’s hot start, what have you seen from him as he continues to develop his game?”

Hotchkiss: “I think Malcolm’s a guy who’s very consistent overall. He’s a dependable player, you know what you’re getting from him every night, but even to his standards he’s been playing above and beyond lately. I think a lot of it has to do with the coach and the system. He loves Nate Bjorkgren’s system. It plays to his strengths. He’s got the ball in his hands a lot. He was a fifty-forty-ninety guy two years ago in Milwaukee, that club speaks for itself. But last year, his three-point percentage was below his standards. I think that he would tell you a lot of that is attributed to (the fact that) he had the ball in his hands a lot more and he was shooting a lot more off the dribble whereas in Milwaukee he was spotting up a lot more. Now, he’s really running the offense. He worked a lot on that over the offseason and it paid off. I think he’s shooting over fifty percent over the last ten games from three with a high volume of shots. He’s getting to the rim a lot. He and Domantas Sabonis have a great pick-and-roll partnership that’s only getting stronger every game. He really just loves this system and I think it’s a system he’ll thrive in."

Savage: “We saw the Pacers get involved in probably the NBA’s biggest trade so far this season. What was their thought process in dealing Oladipo to Houston and acquiring Caris LeVert from Brooklyn?”

Hotchkiss: “I think, and (Pacers President of Basketball Operations) Kevin Pritchard and Nate Bjorkgren have said this, Oladipo, he really bought into everything under the new coach this year. He was all in with the team and he’d played really well in the first few games of the season. But the opportunity came about with the James Harden deal that a player they’ve really liked for a long time in Caris LeVert was available. Caris LeVert is a couple of years younger than Victor. He’s under a contract for a few years while Victor is headed to unrestricted free agency this summer. It just made a lot of sense for the franchise to make the move. It was definitely unexpected to find out that Caris had the issues that came up in his physical, but the franchise talked a lot with the doctors, and I think they’re confident that Caris will be on the court at some point and they want to throw their support behind him. He’s a high-character individual which fits in with the locker room that Kevin Pritchard has built on this team. He’s a guy who’s going to thrive in Nate Bjorkgren’s system. He’s a guy who is going to get to the rim a lot which is something that they want to do. He’s scored fifty points in a game before. He’s scored forty point earlier this season. So, he gives them another scorer alongside Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, and Domantas Sabonis. They’ve got a lot of offensive weapons this year, and I think they can be a dangerous team once they get him on the court.”

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