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Franz Wagner leads Magic to win over Pistons in battle of top draft picks

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 1/29/2022 Khobi Price, Orlando Sentinel

The Orlando Magic’s Friday matchup against the Detroit Pistons not only gave them the opportunity to test themselves against a team in a similar situation, but it also allowed the teams’ rookies to gauge their progress against one another.

The first game between the teams in late October was Pistons guard Cade Cunningham’s NBA debut, with the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft on a minutes restriction that night.

Jalen Suggs, the No. 5 pick, was absent from the second matchup in early January because of his fractured right thumb, making Friday the first time Cunningham, Suggs and fellow Magic rookie Franz Wagner, the No. 8 pick, were able to properly share the floor.

The Magic (10-40), who led by as much as 24, beat the Pistons (11-37) 119-103 for their first win of the season series.

“I pay attention to them because they’re my guys,” Suggs said. “I’ve known them for a while and they’re good people. It’s not something I’m locked into every game to see how they’re doing, to see if they’re doing better or worse than me. It’s nothing like that.”

Wagner was the game’s most productive rookie, scoring a game-high 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting for his 12th game scoring 20-plus points, the most by any rookie.

Suggs finished with 6 points and 4 assists in 27 minutes. Terrence Ross had 21 points (7 of 11), including 12 in the fourth quarter. Mo Bamba, who was among the six Magic players to score 10-plus points, finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks.

Cunningham, who entered Friday averaging 16.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists, finished with 8 points (3-of-17 shooting) and 4 assists. The Montverde Academy alum was coming off the best game of his young career after having 34 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 blocks and 2 steals in a loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday.

“I see that they’re doing great things,” said Wagner. “This rookie class has been playing some great ball. Really consistent, too. But I’m not watching their games extra because they’re rookies.

“It’s always fun to see how they’re progressing. I know [Cunningham’s] probably battling with similar stuff as Jalen and I. It’s cool to see how different people react to different things. The season’s a grind, so hats off to those guys.”

The Magic and the Pistons entered Friday with the league’s worst records, with both teams in the early phases of their rebuilds and putting an emphasis on developing their younger players.

Pistons coach Dwane Casey, who was the coach during the Toronto Raptors’ rebuild last decade, reflected on that experience pregame and offered advice for Magic coach Jamahl Mosley.

“I know not to panic,” Casey said. “I know growth when I see it. The light is dim now, but you can see the light at the end of the tunnel with what you have to work with. I’m sure fans here with Orlando are the same way because I see a lot of good young talent.

“We’re in a similar boat in the rebuild. That gives you hope. Cap room, more draft picks, whatever it is — the building blocks are there.”

The Magic close out their five-game homestand against the Dallas Mavericks (28-21) on Sunday.

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