Slumping Magic visit improving Trail Blazers

NBA Basketball
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The Orlando Magic, in a tailspin after back-to-back collapses, will look to put their recent troubles in the past when they visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night in the finale of a four-game road trip.

Orlando has dropped five of its past six games after losing second-half leads against the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets.

The Magic led by seven points with less than five minutes to play before losing 109-102 to the Jazz on Tuesday. One night later, Orlando held a 19-point lead in the third quarter before the Nuggets ripped off 24 straight points en route to a 113-104 triumph.

Denver outscored Orlando 68-44 in the second half. Magic center Nikola Vucevic said the team let up after building the large cushion.

“It’s unfortunate because in the first half we played well and even the start of the third quarter we played well, but we let our heads drop and it cost us,” Vucevic said after the loss. “We got good looks, so it’s not like we were making bad decisions.

“We just have to stick with our defense. I know we always talk about it, but for us it has to be about our defense, and that’s where we have to be the best. We needed to stick with what was working.”

Orlando (12-16) is four games under .500 to equal a season worst.

Magic power forward Aaron Gordon, who had just nine points on 4-of-14 shooting against the Nuggets, is in a three-game slump. He is averaging eight points while making just 10 of 36 shots during that stretch.

Though frustrated with the setbacks, Gordon remains bullish that Orlando is a strong squad.

“I know we’re a really good team, and I believe that we’re a really good team,” Gordon told reporters. “We could have won this game and the one before. But we dropped this one, so we’ve got to go and get that one in Portland.”

The Trail Blazers (12-16) seem to be getting their act together with three victories in the past four games.

Portland posted a 122-112 win over the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday in the opener of a four-game homestand.

Star point guard Damian Lillard had 31 points and a matched a season best with 13 assists, and shooting guard CJ McCollum scored 30 points. Center Hassan Whiteside was a beast in the interior with a season-high 23 rebounds to go with 16 points.

Lillard pointed to Whiteside as a difference-maker for the team.

“He accepts the challenge all the time, and I think that’s why we’ve been able to start coming along as a team, because of him being able to protect the paint and cover up so many of our mistakes,” Lillard said in a postgame television interview.

Forward Carmelo Anthony added 17 points as he continues to show he can handle a complementary role alongside Lillard and McCollum. The team’s “third option” is averaging 19 points over the past four games.

“I’m just playing off of those guys,” Anthony said after the Wednesday victory. “I’m letting them do what they do, and I get to take advantage of what’s left and the opportunities that’s out there. That’s all I’ve been doing.”

Anthony is also making a contribution on the defensive end, as he had recorded multiple steals in six straight games and has blocked seven shots over the past three contests.

Portland has fared well against Orlando, winning the past five meetings. The Trail Blazers have also won eight of the past 10 matchups with the Magic in Portland.

–Field Level Media

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