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Magic’s ‘restart’ during layoff helped them beat Thunder in first win of 2023


Entering 2023, the Orlando Magic looked like a team in need of a break and time to refresh themselves.

They got just that after last Friday’s home loss to the Washington Wizards, getting four days in between games ahead of Wednesday’s 126-115 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Amway Center.

The victory ended the Magic’s losing streak at three games and put them at 14-24 on the season. Orlando didn’t pick up its 14th victory last season until Feb. 25, 2022 — the first game after the All-Star break.

Outside of the All-Star break, having four days in between games is rare. The Magic used that time to rejuvenate their bodies — not practicing Saturday and Sunday — and focus on the details in practices Monday and Tuesday that they were missing during the losing streak.

“Our ability to sit down and teach the things we’ve continued to talk about,” coach Jamahl Mosley said pregame about the value of the break between games. “Being able to get that restart/refresh. Guarding the basketball, how we’re guarding pick-and-rolls, understanding where our presence is in the paint. Defensive rebounding. Moving the basketball and trusting the pass.

“We hit the restart button. Being able to move without the basketball. Not just driving and putting the ball on the floor, but being able to score off the ball as well. We reviewed that — how to do it as well as defend it. Oklahoma City and [the] Memphis [Grizzlies] coming in are also good cutting teams.”

The Magic looked refreshed against the Thunder.

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They moved the ball frequently and with a purpose, helping them create the space to drive into the paint or get to the free throw line.

Their energy was palpable early compared to their previous three games, especially defensively, allowing them to jump out to a 70-53 lead at halftime and a 22-point advantage in the middle of the third.

The Thunder stymied the Magic’s offensive flow midway through the third, helping cut Orlando’s lead to seven and making the fourth uncomfortable for the Magic.

But Paolo Banchero (team-high 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting, 8 rebounds and 7 assists) helped the Magic close out the game with the win.

Eight of the Magic’s nine available players scored in double figures: Wendell Carter Jr. (13 points and 13 rebounds), Markelle Fultz (13 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists), Gary Harris (18 points), Terrence Ross (18 points), Mo Bamba (10 points), Caleb Houstan (11 points) and R.J. Hampton (12 points).

The Magic shot 51.9% from the field (42 of 81) and 39.4% on 3s (13 of 33).

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder (16-22) with 33 points and 4 assists.

Orlando dropped their previous three games entering Wednesday: 129-110 to the Los Angeles Lakers (Dec. 27), 121-101 at Detroit (Dec. 28) and 119-100 to the Wizards.

“This is unheard of for me,” said guard Cole Anthony, who had 6 assists and 6 points. “My first two seasons, I don’t remember getting time like this except for maybe the All-Star break. It’s important we get these practices in being a young team, getting that rest. It helps everyone hit that reset button.”

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The Magic had to deal with a depleted roster because of suspensions stemming from an on-court altercation with the Pistons — when most of the team’s reserve players left the bench, a violation of league rules — but should be more whole for Thursday’s home matchup vs. the Grizzlies, the second night of a back-to-back.

Kevon Harris, Admiral Schofield and Franz Wagner served their one-game suspensions on Wednesday while Moe Wagner served the second game of his suspension.

Moe Wagner was initially scheduled to serve the first game of his suspension against the Wizards, but the league released a statement Wednesday morning saying “NBA rules require that a player must be physically able to play in order to serve a league suspension. Due to illness, Wagner was not physically able to play against the Wizards.”

He’ll serve the second game of his suspension against the Grizzlies before being eligible to return.

Bol Bol (health and safety protocols), Chuma Okeke (left knee surgery), Jalen Suggs (right ankle soreness) and Jonathan Isaac (left knee injury recovery) also were out.

“Watch the game from a different point of view,” Mosley said about what he asked of the suspended players. “Which is great because now they can go back and talk to the guys that’ve played and they can see that perspective of what they’re seeing on TV and what we look like as a whole. It helps the locker room and levels of communication.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at khprice@orlandosentinel.com or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.

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