Magic aim to take 'A' game to Indianapolis
Say this about the Orlando Magic: They can beat the best.
Enigmatic but dangerous, Orlando goes after another top team in the NBA on Saturday when it plays at the Indiana Pacers, who went 9-3 in February and are in third place in the Eastern Conference.
The Magic are coming off Thursday's come-from-behind 103-96 home win over Western Conference-leading Golden State. In a 2-2 stretch, they also beat Eastern power Toronto, while losing to Chicago and the New York Knicks, two of the worst teams in the league.
"That's the most Magic four-game stretch ever," Orlando guard Evan Fournier said on NBA.com.
It's been one step forward, one step backward in the past four games, but Orlando's bigger picture is that it has won nine of its past 12 games, usually getting it done with defense. The Magic have allowed 100 points or fewer in seven of those last 12 outings, putting themselves in the thick of the chase for one of the final playoffs spots in the East.
Golden State was playing without Kevin Durant (rest) and Andre Iguodala (illness), but holding the high-powered Warriors to 96 points was still impressive. That defense helped the Magic rally from 13 points down early in the fourth quarter.
"We know that we can fight back, and the more that we play at a standard and with a level of consistency, the better it's going to be for us down the stretch (of games)," forward Aaron Gordon said on NBA.com.
Say this about Indiana: It is finding ways to win without its best players.
The Pacers have adjusted to life without star Victor Oladipo, who suffered a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee on Jan. 23 and is out for the season. On Thursday night, they topped the Minnesota Timberwolves 122-115 despite also missing Domantas Sabonis (sprained ankle) and Tyreke Evans (food poisoning) for the second consecutive game.
Sabonis was listed as out for Saturday. Evans was considered questionable.
Bojan Bogdanovic has stepped up since Oladipo went down. He averaged 23.1 points and shot 54.6 percent in February, which he capped with a season-high 37 against the Wolves.
The 29-year-old is averaging a career-high 17.4 points per game this season (best among active Pacers), draining 42.6 percent of his 3-pointers.
Indiana's victory came on the back end of a back-to-back set after it had lost in Dallas.
"I challenged the guys before the game," coach Nate McMillan said after beating Minnesota. "All we need is what we have in this room to win games. I like the way we competed tonight. It was all about energy. We had to scrap and scramble."
It also helped that forward T.J. Leaf, a second-year pro, seized his opportunity. Playing more because Sabonis was out, Leaf scored a career-high 18 points in 21 minutes off the bench.
"I'm a pretty confident guy," Leaf told reporters after the game. "I don't really try and take what a lot of people say -- good, bad or ugly. I know what I can do out there."
Indiana gave up 42 points and 17 rebounds to Minnesota big man Karl-Anthony Towns and will now have to deal with Orlando All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, averaging team highs with 20.5 points and 12.1 rebounds.
The Magic and Pacers have split two games this season -- both in Orlando. The Pacers won 112-90 on Dec. 7, with Orlando taking a 107-100 decision on Jan. 31.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 1, 2019