While a run at the play-in is bleak with nine games left to play, the Magic have found themselves in close games against teams with the playoffs in their sights.
They created some daylight Tuesday with a 122-112 victory against the Washington Wizards at Amway Center.
The Wizards (32-40), who entered as the No. 11 seed in the East, were two games back of the No. 10 Chicago Bulls (34-37) before tipoff. They fall even with the Indiana Pacers (32-40).
The Magic are learning as they go.
“It’s fantastic for this young group,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said before Tuesday’s game. “We can’t say it enough, and you can not stress it enough, in helping understand how critical and valuable those small possessions are. Playoff teams understand how critical winning the first quarter is in any type of situation. The more experience we can get there, the better it’ll be for this group.”
The victory was Orlando’s first this season against the Wizards after dropping the first two meetings. The two teams will meet for the final time in Washington on March 31.
Gary Harris led the Magic with 22 points and caught fire from the 3-point line, shooting 6 of 9 from beyond the arc. Franz Wagner had 20 points with 6 assists, while Paolo Banchero had 18 points and 8 assists.
“He does a fantastic job of just finding space on the floor,” Mosley said of Harris. “Being in the right place at the right time and then reading the defense and our guys found him.”
Markelle Fultz, one of two active players on the roster the last time Orlando made the playoffs in 2020, had 17 points along with 5 assists and 5 rebounds.
“When you’ve got teams that are trying to fight for playoff spots or fight to get into the playoffs, the intensity in the game is just a lot different,” he said. “Any opportunity we get a chance to do that is huge for us and we’ve got to really lock in and take advantage of it.”
Off the bench, Cole Anthony had 16 points and Moe Wagner scored 15. Wagner scored 11 straight points spanning the end of the first quarter to early in the second to give Orlando a 31-25 lead.
“As a competitor, you always want to play for something,” Wagner said. “Sometimes you forget, from a team that’s very young and players haven’t really had the opportunity to lead yet, they want to prove themselves every night so there’s a very high level of competition and growth needed every night. That intensity and excitement is there.
“Now that you’re playing for something. You want to create a culture where you play winning basketball and I think matters to have the mentality of wanting to go somewhere and to have it right in front of us means a lot.”
Kristaps Porziņģis led Washington with 30 points. Bradley Beal dealt with foul trouble throughout the game and finished with 16 points along with 7 assists. He fouled out with 2:55 left.
Orlando (30-43), missing guard Jalen Suggs (concussion) for the third game in a row, remains in 13th place but remains mathematically alive to catch the Bulls.
The Nos. 7-10 seeds in each conference compete in the play-in tournament for the Nos. 7 and 8 spots in the playoffs.
The Magic returned home after a four-game West coast trip 1-3, their lone win coming against the Los Angeles Clippers who are fifth in the Western Conference. Their only non-playoff opponent, San Antonio, beat them by 18.
It’s during this part of the 82-game season that teams rounding into playoff form find their next gear. The Magic, whose average age is just under 24, haven’t qualified for the postseason since 2020.
Gaining experience, even in falling short this season, can be a significant step looking ahead to 2023-24.
Two more victories will give them a 10-game improvement above last season’s 22-win team.
“Each one of these teams that are walking in here are fighting for something,” said Mosley, who has dates vs. the playoff-bound New York Knicks on Thursday and the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday for this three-game homestand. “We’re fighting to get to this certain position.”
And the task gets more difficult. The Magic close the regular season with matchups against Memphis, Cleveland (twice), Brooklyn again and Miami, all playoff teams today.
The Wizards were missing their third-leading scorer, Kyle Kuzma, because of a sprained right ankle Tuesday.
Soruce : https://www.mercurynews.com/2023/03/21/magic-take-down-wizards-for-30th-win-gain-ground-in-play-in-push/