Two rebuilding teams riding high after impressive wins meet on Saturday when the Orlando Magic face the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis.
Orlando held on for a 108-107 win over the host Chicago Bulls on Friday, while Indiana rallied from an early deficit to beat the host Houston Rockets 99-91 for its third straight victory.
Wendell Carter Jr. led Orlando with 21 points, and Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner scored 20 apiece. Bol Bol added 15 points and 10 rebounds as the Magic snapped a two-game skid.
Orlando sits near the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a 5-11 record, but the team has registered notable victories over the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns.
The Friday victory over Chicago marked another step forward for the Magic, who led by 19 in the third quarter before falling behind in the final minute. Suggs’ 3-pointer with five seconds left gave Orlando its first win in seven road games this season.
“This group is special,” Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley said. “The ability to learn from each experience, to learn from each game we play. The joy that they played with, you see the celebration at the end for one another.”
Orlando is looking to reverse a negative trend against the Pacers, having lost 26 of the teams’ past 33 matchups.
The Pacers found themselves down 30-10 in the second quarter on Friday against Houston, and frustration set in when Indiana coach Rick Carlisle was ejected before halftime.
Tyrese Haliburton led the comeback with 19 points, while Myles Turner added 17 and Jalen Smith contributed a career-high 18 rebounds.
“That wasn’t the prettiest game, but our guys were resilient after a horrendous start,” Pacers assistant coach Lloyd Pierce said.
Orlando’s imposing frontline will be challenged by Turner, who is averaging 20.5 points and 9.5 rebounds over his past six games.
“What makes him so good is his toughness and his feel,” Haliburton said. “Understanding and timing and different things like that. He’s got a high IQ.”
Indiana also boasts one of the league’s top rookies in guard Bennedict Mathurin, who is averaging 19.6 points.
The sixth overall pick in the 2022 draft, Mathurin is shooting 43.9 percent from 3-point range through 14 games.
“The one thing that I’m so impressed with (Mathurin) is he is just undaunted,” Carlisle said. “He just continues to play his game and doesn’t get down — continues to have a strong belief in his abilities. And he’s an attacker, he’s a rare young player that’s just unfazed.”
The league’s top draft pick was Orlando forward Paolo Banchero, who has missed the past five games due to a sprained left ankle. Banchero, who leads the team in scoring at 23.5 points per game, is listed as day-to-day.
The Magic received some good news on the injury front when guard Gary Harris returned Friday after missing the first 15 games due to surgery on his left knee. Harris had seven points in 24 minutes off the bench against Chicago.
Harris, who is in second season with Orlando following 6 1/2 years with the Denver Nuggets, said his team’s record doesn’t reflect its competitive level.
“We’ve been really resilient,” Harris said. “We’ve been up for the challenge every game. It’s just been fun seeing these guys grow, seeing these guys learn and figure out how to win in this league.”
–Field Level Media