Tonight sees the much anticipated return of Markelle Fultz as the Magic begin a double-header with the Pacers at home in the Amway Center. It is the moment Magic fans have been waiting for all season and it is finally here; Fultz is back!
Markelle Fultz suffered a devastating ACL injury in his left knee on January 6th 2021. During the eighth game of Orlando’s 2020-21 season against the Cleveland Cavaliers Markelle went down when his left knee buckled without contact. It required surgery to repair, but he was able to return to practice during December. Since that time he has been practicing with both the Orlando Magic and Lakeland Magic. There has been a cautious approach by the team to his return, allowing for strength to be regained in an effort to avoid any reoccurrence. The injury occured just as Markelle was finally getting the opportunity to show the skill that made him the number 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Markelle was averaging career bests in points (14.3) and assists (6.1) in the seven games played.
The tip time from Orlando is shown on the Orlando Magic website as being midnight here in the UK (7pm Eastern for our friends in Orlando). To watch the game live or on demand in the UK you will need an active NBA League Pass 2021/22 subscription.
The Orlando Magic
Last time out Orlando’s Chuma Okeke shone as the Magic took the win over Houston by 111-119. Orlando had a sluggish start, trailing by 14 points during the first quarter. The team rallied, taking their first lead late in the second quarter.
Chuma Okeke scored a career-high 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including going 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. He stuffed the stat sheet with 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and a block. With numerous deflections and relentless defensive impact Chuma provided a career night. R.J. Hampton recorded 11 points, 5 boards and 4 assists in his return from a knee injury. He showed control playing as the primary ball handler for long periods whilst Jalen Suggs sat with foul trouble throughout the game. Wendell Carter Jr finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds for his 26th double-double of the season. His screen setting again allowed for the offence to flow.
Other notable efforts came from Cole Anthony had 14 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. Franz Wagner was not as influential as we have seen but got 13 points for his 51st double figure scoring game in 61 played. Rounding out the double figure scorers was Gary Harris and Terrence Ross with 12 and 10 points each.
Orlando has a record of 14 wins and 47 losses, which still sees us last in the Eastern Conference and with the worst record in the NBA. Over the last 10 games played the Magic have won 3. The home record stands at 6 wins of 27 games played. On the road it is 8 wins in 34 played for the Magic. Points per game sees the Magic are scoring 103.6 whilst conceding 111.9. The efficiency rating for Orlando remains 28th on offence and 23rd defensively.
The Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have a different look to our previous meeting this season. Moves made at trade deadline saw Tyrese Halliburton, Buddy Hield and Ricky Rubio come in. Caris Levert, Domantas Sabonis, Torey Craig, Justin Holiday & Jeremy Lamb were all moved out to pastures new.
The Pacers are on the second night of a back-to-back having beaten Boston at home by 107-128. Oshea Brissett led the team with 27 points, whilst Tyrese Halliburton 22 points, Buddy Hield 21 points and Malcolm Brogdon registered 20 points. For a second game running the Pacers had 7 players including all 5 starters score in double figures. Their offence was efficient, shooting 52.2% from the field and 51.5% from distance.
Indiana have a record of 21 wins and 41 losses, which sees the Pacers off the pace at 13th in the Eastern Conference. Of the last 10 games played Indiana have won 2. The road record stands at 6 wins of 29 games played. In points per game the Pacers score 109.9 whilst conceding 112.1, rating an improving 17th on offence and 25th defensively.
Head-To-Head: The Indiana Pacers
History is again against Orlando on this one. The all time head-to-head record in the 117 regular season games played sees the Magic down 50-67.
These two clubs have met once this season, on February 2nd in Indiana. Orlando made a fourth-quarter come back to defeat the Pacers by 119-118. Wendell Carter Jr (19 points and 18 rebounds) and Gary Harris (making 6 from deep to finish with 22 points) led the fight.
Last season all three games were hard fought affairs, that saw Orlando swept 3-0 by the Pacers. The same was true of the previous season as Indiana swept the Magic 3-0 in competitive games. Orlando had won 3 straight in 2019.
The teams have met 3 times in the playoffs. The record is 1-2 for the Pacers in series and 5-10 in games. The Pacers took both the 1994 (0-3) and 2012 (1-4) first round meetings. Orlando took a famous 4-3 win in the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals.
Our Opponents – The Indiana Pacers
Experienced head coach Rick Carlisle was dealing with extensive absences to key players last time we met. The situation is now a changed roster, building chemistry. They do still have injury issues with TJ McConnell, Ricky Rubio, Myles Turner, TJ Warren and Lance Stephenson. Only Stephenson is not absent for an extended term.
Those absences do not prevent them from being able to field a strong lineup.
Starting Unit – Tyrese Halliburton (PG), Malcolm Brogdon (SG), Buddy Hield (SF), Oshea Brissett (PF) Isaiah Jackson (C).
Bench Unit: Chris Duarte, Jalen Smith, Goga Bitadze, Duane Washington Jr, Terry Taylor, Keifer Sykes
The Orlando Magic Lineup And Injury Report
As already said Markelle Fultz is available as the Magic begin a double-header with the Pacers. Coach Jamahl Mosely will therefore most certainly make an anticipated addition to his core unit. It remains to be seen whether Fultz starts or comes from the bench and with a minutes restriction.
Final Thoughts As The Magic Begin A Double-Header With The Pacers
All we Magic fans are thinking is Markelle Fultz, Fultz and more about Markelle! What will his game be like? How strong is the leg? Will there be a minutes restriction? Does he start and if so who will he partner; Cole or Jalen?
As exciting as Fultz’s return is we must hold our enthusiasm in check with some realism. Markelle has been out for 13 months and there will be rust. He will be playing with a group of players that for the most part he has not partnered before. That being said I am hugely excited to see Markelle feeding a cutting Franz Wagner off a Wendell Carter screen.
The Pacers now have a very effective point guard in Tyrese Halliburton. He is averaging a double-double in the six games with the Pacers of 19.8 points and 10.7 assists. He also gets an average of 2 steals so the defensive focus will be on him and Buddy Hield. Over those same six games since arriving with the Pacers Hield has scored an average of 21.7 points.
Offensively the Pacers are still very effective attacking from inside the two-point line. The Pacers are a strong offensive rebounding team. They can however be guilty of wasting possessions through a high number of turnovers. The Pacers are not a team who make a lot of steals, but block shots with the best in the NBA. Orlando will have the opportunity to find scoring. The Magic are strong at attacking the paint, which remains a weakness for the Pacers defence.
Welcome To The Future
For tonight in Orlando as the Magic begin a double-header with the Pacers it is all eyes on Fultz. This is something as fans we have been waiting to see, what a combination of Fultz, Suggs, Anthony and Hampton can give this team from the back court.
As I wrote in the last game preview the remainder of the season is a building block to the future. The remaining games will decide if together Wendell Carter Jr and Mo Bamba have a future. Chuma Okeke will be aiming to grow his in game influence further, having shown what he can do.
These 21 games may see wins that some fans do not want but the team know there are no guarantees in either the Draft Lottery or the Draft. They will use this time to establish what we have and what we need. Orlando will see this game as winnable, and we all know they never roll over for any team.
Let’s Go Magic!