On a three-game losing streak and without a win since beating Minnesota on Feb. 28, the Orlando Magic take aim at another triumph over the Timberwolves on Friday night when the teams square off again in Minneapolis.
Swingman Terrence Ross scored 33 points and power forward Aaron Gordon had 17 points, 11 rebounds and a career-best 12 assists for the first triple-double of his career in the 136-125 win in Orlando one week ago.
That victory was the fifth in six games for the Magic but things quickly disintegrated. Orlando sustained a one-point loss at San Antonio, lost by 23 points at home versus Portland and opened a four-game trip with a 116-113 loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday.
Ross scored a season-high 35 points against Miami but the Heat turned the arena into their personal shooting gallery by making 22 of 44 3-point attempts.
“We’ve just got to find a way to get more stops down the stretch,” Ross told reporters afterward. “To win these kinds of games, you’ve got to get stops late in the game.”
Ross is on a roll, averaging 28 points over his last four games. He has drained 23 of 43 3-point attempts during the stretch, and made a season-best eight (in 10 attempts) against the Heat.
“When he gets hot like that, it’s great for us because he opens up (everything),” center Nikola Vucevic told reporters of Ross. “It doesn’t take much for him to get open and shoot. He’s gotten really, really good coming off pin-downs and different screen actions and we know to look for him. That’s one of the most efficient offensive things that we have.”
Despite Ross’ torrid performances, Orlando had dropped into the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Magic are 27-35 and 4 1/2 games ahead of the Washington Wizards.
Minnesota is far out of contention in the Western Conference but has won three of its past five games after losing 18 of its previous 19.
The Timberwolves recorded a 139-134 win over the host Pelicans in New Orleans on Tuesday and followed up with a 115-108 victory over the Chicago Bulls one night later for their first back-to-back wins since Jan. 2-5, when they defeated the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively.
The team’s recent stretch of improved play began by using a closing 20-5 burst to turn a late 12-point deficit against Miami into a 129-126 road win on Feb. 26.
“Whenever you pick up wins, you feel better about yourself,” Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders told reporters. “It’s validation in a lot of ways that you’re doing the right thing. We don’t want to harp on any one win, but that Miami win was big for this group.”
Recent acquisition Malik Beasley averaged 26 points in the wins over New Orleans and Chicago. The shooting guard has seven 20-point efforts in 11 games since being acquired from the Denver Nuggets and is averaging 21.4 points with his new team.
Beasley had 24 points against the Bulls while backcourt mate D’Angelo Russell added 19. Forward Naz Reid recorded 16 points and 11 rebounds for his second straight double-double.
Reid was happier about the winning total moving upward as opposed to his level of play.
“It feels good,” Reid told reporters. “We’re tired of losing. Plain and simple. We’re a team that could win. We go out there and put it all together, things like this will happen.”
Russell had 28 points and seven assists in last week’s loss to the Magic.
Orlando shooting guard Evan Fournier (right elbow) is doubtful for Friday’s game. He was injured against Miami.
–Field Level Media
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