By John Denton
Oct. 30, 2017
NEW ORLEANS – Say this much for the plucky Orlando Magic early this season: They are certainly a prideful and resilient bunch when following a frustrating finish and facing a formidable foe.
This time, after following up a bad loss with an impressive victory, the Magic have the instant offense of veteran big man Marreese Speights to thank for their bounce-back win.
A night after a sluggish performance on both ends of the floor in a loss to Charlotte, the Magic rebounded in a very big way once again. Orlando got back to sharing the basketball, making 3-pointers at a high rate and riding strong performances from several players on the roster to turn back the brilliance of superstar forward Anthony Davis and the Pelicans, 115-99 at Smoothie King Center.
Nikola Vucevic (20 points), Evan Fournier (20 points) and Aaron Gordon (17 points) were their usual brilliant selves for the Magic (5-2), but it was the tremendous lift from Speights – Orlando’s version of a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency weapon off the bench – late in the night. Speights, a St. Petersburg native who always dreamed of playing for the Magic, made four of five 3-point shots in the fourth quarter to break open a close game. Speights scored 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter as Orlando surged down the stretch for the victory. Speights made four of five 3-point shots in the final period to lift the Magic to victory.
The most exhilarating moment of the night for the Magic came with 7:15 to play when Speights drilled corner 3-pointer to give Orlando a 106-89 lead. One Magic player after another came storming off the bench to congratulate Speights and Fournier was the first to reach him, crashing into the big man for a joyous chest bump.
If the Magic’s loss/win sequence seems familiar, it happened in similar fashion just last week. A night after playing poorly on the defensive end in a 126-121 loss to Brooklyn on Oct. 20, the Magic drilled 17 3-pointers to whip LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Cleveland.
This time, Orlando hit 50.6 percent of its shots and 16 of 34 3-pointers to overcome the brilliance of Anthony Davis (39 points and 10 rebounds) and the mercurial behavior of DeMarcus Cousins (12 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists). Cousins won the Western Conference Player of the Week award on Monday after averaging 36.3 points, 16.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, but he didn’t have a point in the first 14 minutes against the Magic. For the game, the dominant big man heaved 7 3-point shots and made just two. Additionally, was five of 14 from the floor.
Magic guard Jonathon Simmons, who left San Antonio to sign with Orlando in July, had 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists. That performance came a night after pumping in a career-best 27 points in Charlotte.
Orlando led 88-84 at the start of the fourth period, but it broke the game open in the final 12 minutes behind the dynamic shooting of Speights and the driving of Simmons.
The Magic got rookie forward Jonathan Isaac after he missed Sunday’s game with an illness. However, the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft had trouble staying on the floor much of the night because of foul trouble caused by Davis’ activity.
Orlando came into Monday after arguably its worst game of the season – a 120-113 loss in which Kemba Walker (34 points) and Dwight Howard (20 points) scored at will against the Magic’s lackluster defense.
After playing in Charlotte on Sunday and in New Orleans on Monday, Orlando will get a much-needed day off on Tuesday before concluding their three-game trip in Memphis on Wednesday. Elfrid Payton, who has missed the past five games with a hamstring strain, will work out again on Tuesday with the hopes that he might be able to return on Wednesday night.
Down four at the half, Orlando played its best basketball of the night in the third quarter to grab the lead and head into the fourth period 88-84. Vucevic came out of the half in attack mode, scoring 14 in the third period to give the Magic another strong threat to go with Fournier and Gordon.
Orlando opened the third quarter with a 12-2 run, then surrendered a 10-2 New Orleans’ burst and closed the period with a 14-8 surge to regain the lead.
Clearly inspired by their poor performance on Sunday in Charlotte, the Magic played with a purpose in the first half. They led most of the way before Davis and Cousins took over inside to put the Pelicans up 64-60 at intermission.
The Magic led 8-0 early on and 33-24 at the end of the first quarter. It was their 13th 30-point quarter of this young season, giving them hope that the night was full of promise. New Orleans took its first lead of the night at 50-49 after Davis sent Gordon and Isaac to the bench on consecutive plays with their third fouls.
Davis was a one-man wrecking crew in the game’s first 24 minutes, battering the Magic for 26 points on eight of 11 shooting and a perfect 10 of 10 from the free throw line.
Fournier, who was playing despite a sore shin from an accidental kick the night before, shot the ball well early on to keep the Magic within striking distance. He made six of nine shots and four of five 3-pointers for his 16 first-half points. That performance extended his streak of games with at least one 3-pointer to 32 games – the third-longest active streak in the NBA.
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