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Thunder, fresh off romp over Celtics, seek encore in Orlando

Dec 30, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (5) drives to the basket as Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura (8) defends during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando rookie forward Paolo Banchero will be there but Oklahoma City big man Chet Holmgren won’t when the Magic play host to the Thunder on Wednesday.

Banchero and Holmgren were the top two picks in the 2022 NBA Draft, making the two Magic-Thunder games this season marquee matchups.

Banchero, who is averaging 20.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists, has started his career off strong after being the No. 1 overall pick.

Holmgren, taken second overall by the Thunder, sustained a Lisfranc injury to his right foot last summer, and he will miss the entire season.

The Thunder also could be without star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the second consecutive game on Wednesday, as he has a non-COVID illness. Oklahoma City did just fine without him on Tuesday, blowing out the visiting Boston Celtics 150-117.

Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 30.8 points per game, making a strong push for his first All-Star appearance. Even so, the Thunder have won three of four without him this season, including wins over the Memphis Grizzlies and Boston.

“I just think we’ve got great players and great people, guys who don’t really care who gets the credit,” guard Tre Mann said in explaining Oklahoma City’s success without Gilgeous-Alexander.

Mann is averaging 13.4 points over the last five games since returning from a G-League stint, including a 21-point performance on Tuesday. He averaged 8.3 points over his first 27 games.

The Magic will be short-handed on Wednesday, as they will be missing starting forwards Bol Bol and Franz Wagner and others.

Bol, who entered the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol on Tuesday, will sit out a game for the first time this season. He is averaging 12 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, by far the best numbers of his career.

Franz Wagner, the only other Magic player to play in every game, will join teammates Kevon Harris and Admiral Schofield in serving one-game suspensions on Wednesday. The three were among the Magic players who left the bench during an altercation with the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 28.

Orlando center Moritz Wagner will serve the second game of his two-game suspension for the incident on Wednesday.

The Magic are expected to have just nine players available to face the Thunder.

Cole Anthony, Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., R.J. Hampton and Gary Harris served their suspensions in Orlando’s 119-100 loss to the visiting Washington Wizards on Friday.

The Magic have dropped three consecutive games after winning eight of nine.

The four off days between games is tied for Orlando’s longest stretch of the season, excluding the All-Star break.

“It’s a little bit of a reset, get back to the fundamental things that we’ve missed out on these past few games,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said.

Orlando has allowed an average of 123 points per game during the current losing streak, 10 more points per game than it was allowing over the first 34 games.

The Wednesday meeting will the last of two between the teams this season. The Thunder won the first 116-108 on Nov. 1 in Oklahoma City behind 34 points from Gilgeous-Alexander. Carter scored 30 points, Franz Wagner had 20 and Banchero put up 15 for the Magic.

–Field Level Media