Postgame Report: Magic Wrap Up Long Road Trip With Win Over Hornets

by John Denton

CHARLOTTE – On the road for a 12th consecutive day and back in the Eastern Time Zone for the first time since Jan. 9, the Orlando Magic were understandably sleepy and sluggish in the first few minutes of Monday’s matinee.

Then, the Magic got just the spark that they needed from the player known as ``The Human Torch’’ in a spectacular stretch of shooting spanning the end of the first quarter and the first few minutes of the second quarter.

Terrence Ross, Orlando’s best offensive weapon off the bench for two seasons and someone known as ``The Human Torch’’ for his ability to heat up in a hurry, made five of his first six 3-point shots and scored 16 of 19 points in the first half as the Magic came alive and rolled to a 106-83 defeat of the Charlotte Hornets. The stirring victory allowed the Magic to salvage a 3-3 record on their longest road trip of the season.

``I felt like as we got our bodies going, we were going to wake up regardless, but we just brought more energy in that second quarter,’’ said Ross, who reached double figures in scoring for the fourth consecutive game. ``Everybody just kept telling me to keep shooting and when everyone starts looking for me, it just gives me that much more confidence when I’m shooting. I’m just trying to provide a spark any way that I can.’’

Ross got Orlando (21-23) rolling and Evan Fournier (26 points and six 3-pointers) and Nikola Vucevic (24 points and 10 rebounds) did the rest in a runaway second half. Once down as much as 11 points in the early going, Ross flipped the game around completely with his five 3-pointers in the first half.

``I mean, T-Ross is so streaky, but once he gets it going, every time he shoots it, you know that it’s in,’’ said Fournier, who has been ill and injured and admitted to downing a bottle of ``Five Hour Energy’’ prior to tipoff in an attempt to get a burst of energy. ``(Ross’ run) gives you momentum and it gives you good feelings. The other team usually overreacts to that and they overclose-out on him and it opens drives (for guards) and slips for the bigs. And we played off it.’’

Monday’s matinee was the final game of a six-game, 12-day trip – the Magic’s longest of the season both in terms of consecutive games and days on the road. Head coach Steve Clifford was immensely proud of the way his team fought through the jet let, fatigue and weariness of a long road trip and played one its best games in recent weeks to dispatch Charlotte (15-30).

``Impressive, to me, and I thought that was one of our best wins because of our approach,’’ Clifford raved. ``That was six-in-a-row on the road, 12 days, and coming off a poor performance (Saturday versus Golden State), fly across the country, 5 o’clock (tipoff) and we could have had excuses, but I thought our attitude was great and that set the whole thing up.

``As he does a lot of nights with Terrence, his shot-making kept us in the game,’’ Clifford added. ``But I love the way that we played and in the second half, that might be as good of a 24 minutes as we’ve played so far.’’

Orlando got off to a rough start on the trip when it blew a late lead and lost at Phoenix. However, Orlando won in dramatic fashion in Sacramento and stunned the surging Los Angeles Lakers behind a triple-double effort from Fultz. Orlando fell flat in losses to the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State, but it responded with a stellar effort on Monday.

``It could have been better, it could have been worse, but it’s hard to say. You could say, `maybe if we had won this game or that game,’ but maybe we would have lost other games,’’ said Vucevic, who made 11 of 21 shots and two of five 3-pointers. ``You always have to look forward. I think 3-3 is pretty solid and we can be pretty happy with how we did on this trip. Now, we get to go back home for a little bit. We have some tough teams coming up, starting with OKC, but if we play with the right mindset, we’re going to have a chance. But it will be good to be home, finally.’’

The Magic pushed their lead to as much as 17 in the third period. Charlotte – losers of seven straight games now – briefly got within single digits of the Magic by the start of the fourth quarter, but Fournier and Vucevic took turns battering the Hornets in the fourth period.

Orlando improved to 18-1 this season when either leading or tied after three periods. Also, the Magic bounced back from a poor effort in Saturday’s loss to Golden State and improved to 16-6 this season against teams with losing records.

``That good, and as a team, we are growing because closing games are hard in this league,’’ Fournier said. ``Fourth quarters can be tough to handle because teams are always going to make their runs. But it’s defense with us because we win with our defense. And when we’re locked in, we’re just that good.’’

Markelle Fultz, who came into the night on the best seven-game stretch of his career, added 10 points, five rebounds and five assists. Aaron Gordon scored just six points, but he added seven assists and six rebounds.

Orlando shot 47.8 percent and made 14 of 28 3-point shots. Malik Monk (20 points) and P.J. Washington (19 points) led Charlotte.

The Magic will be back at the Amway Center on Wednesday to face the surprising Oklahoma City Thunder. It will be the start of a three-game home stand for the Magic, who will host the Boston Celtics on Friday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.

Charlotte, which had been off since Wednesday, could have had its focus distracted by what’s to come for its franchise. The Hornets are scheduled to leave on Tuesday morning for France where they will play in the inaugural NBA Paris Game 2020 against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday.

Up 51-45 at the half, Orlando came out dialed in offensively to start the quarter and ripped off a 14-3 burst. A 3-pointer by Fournier gave a commanding 65-48 lead and the Magic seemed to be on their way to an easy win. Charlotte did cut into the lead, getting as close as seven points, but the Magic still led 72-65 through three periods.

That was good news for Orlando considering that it came into the night 17-1 when either tied or leading after three periods. Orlando would end the suspense early in the fourth period when it made nine of its first 16 shots of the final period – four of which were 3-pointers – to push its lead out to 23 points.

Sleep-walking through the first quarter and trailing by as much as 11 points, the Magic got the spark they needed from Ross, who heated up over the final 90 seconds of the first period. By halftime, Ross had five 3-pointers and 15 points, and the Magic had a somewhat surprising 51-45 lead on the Hornets.

Orlando looked sluggish in the early going, missing six of its first seven shots and 11 of the first 16 of the night. Eventually, Charlotte pushed its lead out to as large as 11 at 24-13 before Ross heated up.

The veteran guard drilled two 3-pointers in the final 90 seconds of the first period to get Orlando within 27-19. Orlando then ripped off a game-turning 14-1 burst to start the second quarter to grab its first lead of the night.

Later in the second period, Ross got it going again to help the Magic push their lead out to 43-36. Three 3-pointers in the next 2 minutes, 14 seconds sent Charlotte into a time out in an attempt to cool off the hot-shooting Ross. In the first half, he made five of his shot shots from beyond the 3-point arc for 16 points. His shooting and energy were so infectious that the Magic outscored the Hornets by 11 points during Ross’ 15 minutes on the floor in the first half.

``I think we all get that feeling,’’ Ross said of coming off the bench and sensing what the team needed from him. ``Coming in, any time that you can get your first shot to go in, it just gives you that extra confidence.

``This win was good, and it gives us a little momentum to get this 3-3 split on the trip,’’ Ross added. ``Now, it’s time to get back home, get readjusted and get ready for those next four games.’’

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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