From: Orlando Sentinel
Date of Publication: Jan. 1, 2022
With less than seven minutes to go in the third quarter, the Orlando Magic had done it again. Forward Franz Wagner buried a 3-pointer to tie Thursday night’s game with the Milwaukee Bucks at 71 and erase a large first-half deficit, exactly as the team had done two days earlier.
But just like Tuesday’s game, it didn’t last.
The Magic simply couldn’t keep up with the defending champions, falling to the Bucks 136-118 for their second double-digit loss in a three-day span. In both games, Orlando flashed plenty of potential from its young players but also demonstrated how far the team still has to go.
“They did a good job battling,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said. “I understand there were certain situations and isolations that we caught ourselves in. Obviously, with Giannis [Antetokounmpo] being able to get downhill. But for the most part, our guys came out and competed from the beginning.”
One of the main issues holding back the Magic has been lack of depth due to injuries and COVID health protocols. Twelve players were inactive during Thursday’s loss, and those absences showed as Orlando faltered whenever its starters sat.
In both games against the Bucks this week, every Magic player who came off the bench recorded a negative plus-minus. Multiple players who weren’t even on the roster two weeks ago earned starting roles. But when the few of Orlando’s coveted young players who are healthy were together on the court, the coaching staff saw reasons for hope.
Wagner followed up his career night on Tuesday with 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting as center Wendell Carter Jr. was a force, putting up 14 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, a steal and a block. The Magic seemed to match up well with the Bucks when their key pieces played.
“We kept saying how big Bobby Portis was in these games and his 3-point shot-making. We limit him to 0-for-1 from the 3-point line, force him inside the 3,” Mosley said. “Other guys got going. Wesley Matthews made a couple shots, but from the standpoint of where we were trying to adjust… I think we did a pretty good job.”
The Magic know that they could be a much better version of themselves at full strength. Guard Cole Anthony in particular, the leading scorer and one of the most explosive players on the roster, could have been the difference-maker against the Bucks (24-13) but remains sidelined with a sprained right ankle.
But even with the revolving door of new faces over the past month, the culture remains solid.
“From my past teams, I can tell that this group is definitely special,” said Tim Frazier, a recent hardship signee who has played for seven other teams, including Milwaukee in 2018. “Everybody’s locked in as a team, everybody cares for one another, everybody wants everybody to succeed.”
The payoff comes as the Magic (7-29) continue to battle every night, even as the losses mount. They’ve won just two home games all season but made the Bucks uncomfortable in both games this week.
The players hope they are establishing a reputation that will produce dividends as the season wears on.
“Teams know when they come into [Orlando] that no matter who’s on the floor it’s gonna be a hard game,” guard R.J. Hampton said. “The Milwaukee Bucks, I think they had almost every player play for them except for Brook Lopez and you have Giannis in the game with 30 seconds left … That’s just a testimony to me, my teammates and my coaching staff and how hard we work and how good we want to be.”