COVID-racked Magic face Pelicans to cap back-to-back set

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The New Orleans Pelicans appear to be taking flight, having won three consecutive games for the first time this season.

First-year head coach Willie Green’s club will look to continue its momentum when it visits the Orlando Magic on Thursday night.

Green, who concluded a 12-year NBA career as a member of the Magic during the 2014-15 season, guided the Pelicans to eight wins in the last 13 games after they stumbled out of the gate with a 3-16 mark.

With power forward Zion Williamson (foot) yet to play this season, New Orleans found success Tuesday by combining Brandon Ingram, Devonte’ Graham, Josh Hart, Herbert Jones and Jonas Valanciunas. The starting quintet accounted for 71 points and 32 rebounds in the Pelicans’ 111-97 home victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Ingram had team highs with 28 points and eight assists against Portland, and he added eight rebounds. The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 27.4 points over his past five games.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker also played a key role on Tuesday, making six 3-pointers as part of a 27-point performance off the bench. Graham scored 10 points, and it was his 61-foot buzzer-beater that stunned the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 15 and launched the Pelicans’ current three-game winning streak.

“It’s encouraging, especially for guys that had a rough start to the season to pick it up a little bit,” Ingram said after the Portland win. “Seeing Nickeil have a good few games and him looking comfortable and confident on the floor is encouraging for us.

“Seeing Josh Hart and Herb (Jones) be consistent every single night is good for us, and also (Valanciunas) being consistent every single night is definitely building confidence for our team.”

Valanciunas, however, will miss the Orlando game due to a non-COVID illness.

For the Magic — a team besieged by injuries, inexperience and, most recently, COVID-19 issues — the story remains the roster, even as Orlando is riding its first two-game winning streak of the season.

The Magic had six players in the league’s health and safety protocols on Wednesday, and six others were out due to injuries, but they still managed to earn a 104-98 road win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Mychal Mulder joined group of players sidelined due to COVID-19 after Mo Bamba, R.J. Hampton, Terrence Ross, Moritz Wagner and Ignas Brazdeikis had also missed Orlando’s Friday and Saturday games.

The biggest impacts from injuries are the absence of leading scorer Cole Anthony (ankle), Wendell Carter Jr. (leg) and rookie Jalen Suggs (thumb).

Orlando looked to its G League affiliate in Lakeland, Fla., and signed Aleem Ford, Hassani Gravett, BJ Johnson and Admiral Schofield to 10-day contracts via hardship exceptions by the NBA. All have played in the Magic’s last three games, while Johnson contributed a career-best 14 points on Wednesday.

Franz Wagner had a team-high 25 points against Atlanta to give him 14 consecutive games with 10 or more points. He is averaging 17.5 points in that span.

Robin Lopez scored 10 points and dished out a career-high 11 assists after the veteran center posted 20 points and 10 rebounds in Orlando’s 100-93 victory at Brooklyn on Saturday.

On Tuesday, Orlando also signed former G League MVP and G League Rookie of the Year Tim Frazier as well as Freddie Gillespie to 10-day contracts. Both came off the bench against the Hawks, with Gillespie totaling eight rebounds, five points and two blocks in 15 minutes.

“I think we stayed connected, obviously with a lot of craziness going on in the world,” Lopez said postgame. “But our guys, we stayed focused with whatever changes happen and we kept pushing for each other.”

–Field Level Media

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