Finishing up the season just like they started it, the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers met for the final time on Wednesday night.While the Pacers had nothing to play for, already being locked into the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but in a way the game mattered to Orlando. In midst of a rebuild, the Magic found themselves “tanking,” aiming to get the highest draft pick they possibly could. A loss on Wednesday night would guarantee the Magic the third-worst record in the league, and a roughly 47 percent chance at picking in the top three.
When the buzzer sounded for the final time of the season for the Magic, they found themselves once again on the losing end, falling to the Pacers 101-86.
Despite Indiana resting three of their five starters, and playing the other two just a half, Orlando was unable to find the winning solution. While they were able to grab an early seven-point lead, they were unable to hold it, crumbling before one could blink. From that point, the Pacers didn’t look back.
Indiana used an extremely balanced scoring attack to down the Magic. Six of the nine Pacers who played finished in double figures, led by the duo of Chris Copeland and Rasual Butler, who each finished with a game-high 19. Evan Turner finished with 14, while reserve point Donald Sloan poured in 13. Backup big man Lavoy Allen scored 12, with Luis Scola rounding out the bunch in double figures, scoring 10 on the night.
Orlando went a much different route, playing many of their young guys extended minutes to get a better look at them going into the offseason. Second-year forward Maurice Harkless, who will be playing for the Puerto Rican national team during the FIBA World Championships, led all Magic men, finishing with 14 points on the night. Backup guard E’Twaun Moore, who is a free agent this summer, scored 13, but shot a woeful 5-of-12 from the field. Fellow reserves Doron Lamb and Andrew Nicholson finishing 11 and 10, respectively.
The team undoubtedly has better days ahead. As head coach Jacque Vaughn put it, “Yeah, without a doubt. I really believe in the process of working your way towards really being good and an elite team in this league for a long time. And believe me, we’re dedicated to that process. You’ve got good men in that locker room that want to get better and they got better this year. I am extremely proud of the men in that locker room. I’m glad that they allow me to coach them. Indeed there are brighter days ahead.”
On the other end, the playoff-bound Pacers are looking to take down the mighty Miami Heat and find their way to the NBA Finals. However, they’ll have a tough path to do so. After the game, coach Frank Vogel talked about how winning a few games without his starters is important to the team going forward: “Absolutely. There’s always value in winning games, but I think anytime you have bench guys that have a chance to get extended minutes, that’s really good for their rhythm and confidence. We’ve had pretty good health with our starters most of the season, so those bench guys haven’t had opportunities to get extended minutes like that. So, I think that Milwaukee game was good and this game was good.”
He also talked about Roy Hibbert and George Hill, the two starters he did play in hopes of getting them going. “Yes. I still didn’t get the ball to either one of them as much as I wanted to, the way I wanted to, but they got a little bit of extra work. Roy goes four or five days without playing, he tends to decondition, so it’s good for him to just get out there and get a few minutes, running up and down. I thought he rebounded the ball well. So, it was a good night.”
With the season over for the Magic, they now look forward to the NBA Draft, one in which they own two lottery picks: Their own, and the less favorable of the Nuggets and Knicks. They’ll find out May 20th where they will pick, and June 26th they will find out who will be their next players, with the Orlando Summer League to follow shortly thereafter.