The Orlando Magic’s backcourt got healthier Thursday, but that wasn’t enough for them to overcome the West-leading Memphis Grizzlies.
Despite second-year guard Jalen Suggs making his return from injury, the Magic (14-25) fell to the Grizzlies (25-13) 123-115 at Amway Center.
Suggs, sidelined since exiting the Nov. 25 home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers with right ankle soreness, missed the previous 19 games. But his return was limited to five minutes in the first quarter.
He was already on an undisclosed minutes restriction and wasn’t officially ruled, but a teammate accidentally hit Suggs in the face during his lone stint, leading to a sore jaw.
Suggs came off the bench in his first game in six weeks, with Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter Jr. being the starting lineup for the first time.
The Magic and Grizzlies, both playing on the second half of a back-to-back after victories Wednesday, came out sluggish. Both teams struggled to make good looks, leading to Memphis having a 22-20 lead at the end of the first.
The Grizzlies broke the game open in the second, outscoring the Magic 43-23 in the quarter to take a 65-43 lead into halftime. They had a game-high 25-point lead in the middle of the third.
But the Magic slowly chipped away at the deficit to make the game close down the stretch.
Banchero scored 20 points and Terrence Ross (14 points off the bench) made a pair of 3s toward the end of the third to bring Memphis’ lead down to 92-78 going into the fourth.
Fultz and Wagner flustered the Grizzlies defensively late in the fourth, leading to Fultz assisting Wagner on a pair of layups to cut the deficit down to 116-108 with 3:03 remaining.
The Magic trimmed the Grizzlies’ lead down to six but didn’t get any closer.
Carter fouled out contesting a Ja Morant drive with the Magic down 120-114 with 1:21 remaining. Coach Jamahl Mosley challenge the foul call but it wasn’t overturned, with Memphis cruising to its fifth consecutive victory from there.
Morant led the Grizzlies with 32 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds. Jaren Jackson Jr. added 31 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Banchero had team-highs of 30 points and 9 rebounds. Wagner finished with 22 points on 6-of-10 shooting (8 of 10 on free throws) while Carter added 18 points and 7 rebounds.
The Magic will start their five-road trip against the Golden State Warriors Saturday.
Suggs fully participated in practices Monday and Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s home game vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Suggs wasn’t available vs. the Thunder, but coach Jamahl Mosley hinted he would be soon.
Suggs responded “ASAP, I feel great.” when asked Tuesday if there was a timetable to return.
“ASAP” turned out to be against the Grizzlies.
“I’ve had the biggest smile on my face these past two weeks, just being able to do more every day, ramping up,” Suggs said earlier in the week. “Going from the weight room to actual on-court workouts to 1s, to 3s to now playing 5s. All of it’s been great.”
Suggs, the No. 5 pick in the 2021 draft, has dealt with right ankle issues since last year.
He sat five games (Oct. 22-30) because of a sprained right ankle. He played in November’s first 12 games before sitting with ankle soreness.
Suggs had various right ankle ailments that sidelined him for 13 of the final 18 games last season. He had surgery to address a stress fracture early in the offseason, limiting how much he could participate in basketball activities.
“We did the surgery to take care of all the problems,” Suggs said. “It just kind of ended up coming back, so making sure the issues are put to rest and it’s not something we have to worry about anymore before it becomes a bigger issue.
“Things don’t always work out how you want it to. Now that it came back, taking our time, making sure we’re deliberate with it, and making sure when I do come back, there’s no soreness.”
Bol Bol (health and safety protocols), R.J. Hampton (G League assignment), Kevon Harris (transferred to G League as part of his two-way contract), Jonathan Isaac (left knee injury recovery) and Chuma Okeke (left knee surgery) weren’t available.
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.