Two young teams looking to make a push for the Eastern Conference play-in tournament meet when the Orlando Magic host the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.
Orlando is 20-15 since a 5-20 start and sits 13th in the East, while Indiana is a half-game ahead at 26-35 overall.
Rookie-of-the-year favorite Paolo Banchero leads the Magic, who emerged with a 108-106 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Thursday in their first game after the All-Star break.
Orlando has struggled to secure the win in close games this season, but was able to notch the win over Detroit when Wendell Carter Jr. tipped in Banchero’s missed layup at the buzzer.
“There are always lessons to learn,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said. “This is one of those great ones in a win, you come away and you feel very good. There are a lot of things down the stretch that we can definitely improve on. But we came away with the win because of how resilient our guys were. I’m just proud of the effort and energy they put forward.”
Carter had 14 points and 14 rebounds in the win and continues to impress in his sixth season. The 6-foot-10 center is averaging 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in eight games this month.
Banchero has started every game in his rookie season and averages a team-high 19.7 points along with 6.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
The team’s young core is eager to find a spot in the play-in tournament, but Mosley wants his squad to focus on the task at hand.
“Guys are talking about the play-in and the playoff push, and we understand that,” Mosley said. “But the most important thing is always going to be: Are we getting better? Are we improving? Are we focusing on little details, no matter the game, no matter the time of the year?”
Orlando is looking to even the season series against Indiana after losing two of the first three meetings.
The Pacers fell just short on Thursday against the Boston Celtics in a 142-138 overtime defeat. Despite losing for the 17th time in its last 20 games, Indiana coach Rick Carlisle was encouraged by his team’s effort.
“I just love the fight our guys brought to the game,” Carlisle said. “They never went away. We weren’t perfect, rebounding continues to be a challenge, but the level of battle and the level of fight was tremendous. Closing out games like this against the top teams on the planet comes down to details.”
Myles Turner made a career-best eight 3-pointers in the loss and tied his career high with 40 points. The Pacers rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit and made a strong impression on Boston star Jayson Tatum.
“That’s a tough team to play against,” Tatum said. “They create a lot of problems. Defensively, they play with so much pace, freedom. They present a lot of problems.”
Indiana’s lack of size could be a factor against the Magic. Turner is the only one taller than 6-6 in the Pacers’ starting lineup, while Orlando boasts a formidable frontline of Carter, Banchero and 6-10 Franz Wagner.
Banchero scored 23 points in Orlando’s 126-120 win over the Pacers on Jan. 25. Carter tallied 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Magic, who never trailed in the contest.
–Field Level Media