ORLANDO, Fla. — After two-plus months of not playing together, the Orlando Magic returned to a familiar — and their best — starting lineup for Sunday’s matchup against the Chicago Bulls.
Although that unit didn’t play many minutes together (seven), it helped the Magic — who were led by Moe Wagner’s team-high 23 points of the bench — secure a 114-95 victory over the Bulls for their first home win since Dec. 1.
Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba started Sunday for the first time since Nov. 17 against the Brooklyn Nets.
The change to the starting unit came after the Magic announced Gary Harris (back spasms) and Terrence Ross (right knee soreness) were ruled out two hours before tipoff. Harris started in 29 of the previous 31 games.
The aforementioned quintet, which started in 15 of the first 16 games, has been the Magic’s best five-man lineup: their plus-11.4 net rating was the highest among Magic lineups that played at least 30 minutes entering Sunday. They hadn’t been on the floor together since mid-November because of injuries to Anthony, Suggs and Carter.
“That was a unit that was very tied together,” coach Jamahl Mosley said ahead of Sunday’s matchup. “Defensively and offensively, we were pretty high in the ratings. There was great chemistry. They gelled together well, so they’re going to get that comfort level of being back out there again.”
Franz Wagner had 18 points (7 of 14), 5 assists and 4 rebounds. Carter finished with 19 points (7 of 11), 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. Suggs (15), Anthony (11), Chuma Okeke (11) and Ignas Brazdeikis (11) finished with double-digit points. The Magic’s bench outscored the Bulls’ 51-10.
DeMar DeRozan finished with a game-high 41 points. Coby White had 22 points. The Bulls were also without several key players, including Zach LaVine (left knee soreness), Lonzo Ball (left knee bone contusion) and Alex Caruso (right wrist fracture).
What’s helped make the aforementioned quintet stand out from the Magic’s other lineups is their defense.
The Magic’s defensive rating, points allowed per 100 possessions, with Anthony, Suggs, Wagner, Carter and Bamba on the floor entering Sunday was 94.1 — the team’s second-best mark among lineups that played at least 30 minutes. The Magic allowed 10 points in the 7 minutes their starters were on the floor.
The frontline of Carter and Bamba helped the Magic have an offensive rebounding percentage of 31.1%, which would be the league’s third-best mark compared to other teams.
That production on the boards not only gives the Magic more second-chance opportunities but helps limit the number of times they have to deal with the opposing team’s transition offense.
“We were gauging it well for a while, and then guys went out,” Mosley said of the lineup. “This is going to be another opportunity to monitor it and see where we can go from there. They haven’t played together for some time with injuries and COVID, but this is an opportunity for them to continue to grow.”
The Magic will continue their five-game homestand against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.