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Magic close out home schedule with blowout loss to Timberwolves

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 5/10/2021 Roy Parry, Orlando Sentinel

The Orlando Magic’s final home game of the season belonged to D’Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Towns and Russell each finished with 27 points and the Timberwolves hit the Magic with one double-digit scoring run after another and rolled to a 128-96 victory Sunday night before an announced crowd of 4,086 at Amway Center.

The Magic will close out the season with four straight road games against teams in the thick of the playoff race, starting with Tuesday’s visit to Milwaukee to face the Bucks. The game tips off at 9 p.m. and will be broadcast on Bally Sports Florida.

Orlando then will be in Atlanta on Thursday and Philadelphia for games Friday and Sunday to wrap up the season.

Magic coach Steve Clifford was hoping his team could slow down a Timberwolves’ squad that now has scored at least 100 points in 32 of its past 33 games. Instead, Orlando couldn’t stop Towns or Russell.

Now the Magic will have to regroup ahead of its final four games against opponents with as much — if not more — talent than the Timberwolves. Clifford said the attitude and approach must be sharper for a Magic team humbled Sunday night.

“The big thing is obviously when you play a team like them [Timberwolves], they have really three primary scores, which was the main emphasis going in this morning,” Clifford said. “And particularly Russell and Towns, they had their way with us, and it set the tone for the whole game. So hopefully lesson learned. The NBA will bring you to your knees.”

R.J. Hampton scored a career-high 19 points — 10 in the fourth quarter — and Dwayne Bacon had 18 points to lead the Magic, who lost their third straight and wound up 1-11 over their final 12 home games after the March 25 trade deadline reshaped the roster.

Still, the loss moved the Magic (21-47) into a tie with the Timberwolves (21-47) and Cavaliers (21-47) for fourth in the NBA reverse standings. Those three teams trail the Rockets (16-52) by five games, the Pistons (20-49) by 1.5 games and the Thunder (21-48) by half a game. The Thunder lost 126-98 to the Kings late Sunday night.

Ricky Rubio had 18 points and Anthony Edwards added 16 points and 10 rebounds for Minnesota, which shot 48.5%, had 30 assists on its 47 field goals and led by as many as 43 points in the third quarter.

The Timberwolves created separation late in the first quarter and just kept pulling away. They led by 15 (34-19) after the first quarter, by 30 (74-44) at halftime and by 38 (107-69) after the third quarter.

“I think it was mostly lack of effort, not coming prepared as a whole unit,” Hampton said. “We’ve just got to be more aggressive. They hit us in the mouth first and we didn’t do anything about it, so I think that was the main thing.”

Towns and Russell were big reasons why.

Towns dedicated the game to his mother, Jacqueline Cruz-Town, who died from COVID-19 in April 2020, and he showed a razor focus early and often.

Towns drove into the paint for shots, took them from the perimeter and got the foul line with ease. He went 4-for-8 from the field and 4-for-5 from the free-throw line on his way to 13 points in the first quarter, and he wound up with 20 points in the Timberwolves’ dominant first half.

Russell, a Montverde Academy alum, piled up 19 points in the first half with most of his damage coming from four 3-pointers. He was 6-of-14 from the field, a number that could have been even better had he not missed two layups in the early going.

By halftime, the Timberwolves had amassed 34 points in the paint — 12 by Towns — on 17-of-27 shooting (63%). The Magic had just 10 points in the paint on 5-of-22 shooting.

Minnesota wound up with a 58-36 scoring edge in the paint.

Clifford said the lack of practice and the team’s constantly changing roster have made building cohesion on the court challenging if not difficult. While he acknowledges every team is playing through the same condensed schedule, Clifford said he wants his players to approach each game with the same mindset and intensity.

“In this case, and this is not to make an excuse, but four of the nine guys who played tonight have been here I think probably less than two weeks, so it makes it more difficult,” Clifford said. “But again, my point to them is if we have the right attitude, we can still play better. I mean we can play better than we did tonight. There’s certain aspects of basketball that are the same at every level. You’ve got to take away the strengths of the team’s best players, and to me that’s what we didn’t do tonight and that’s what set the tone for the whole game.”

The Magic’s last lead came at 9-7 before the Timberwolves went ahead to stay with a 14-4 burst that ended with a 3 by Edwards and a 27-13 advantage.

Orlando pulled within nine at 28-19 after a 3 by Moritz Wagner, but Minnesota quickly responded with a three-point play by Towns and the lead never fell below double digits the rest of the way.

When Towns sank a 3-pointer just 35 seconds into the third, the lead reached 77-46 and never fell below 30.

After the 14-4 run that got the Timberwolves going, they hit the Magic with runs of 16-2, 14-2 and 15-0 before the third quarter was out.

The Magic were far from full strength again. Starting center Wendell Carter Jr. missed his third straight game as he continues to deal with blurred vision and some depth perception issues related to a left eye abrasion.

“I’ve been feeling good since probably yesterday,” Carter told reporters Sunday. “At the same time, it’s still a little blurry and they say my depth perception was going to be off a little bit. So that’s the only two things that bother me right now.”

In addition, the team played its fifth straight game without the group of Michael Carter-Williams (ankle sprain), James Ennis (sore calf), Chuma Okeke (ankle sprain), Otto Porter Jr. (foot pain) and Terrence Ross (back spasms).

The Magic also announced Sunday that they signed forward/center Donta Hall for the remainder of the season. Hall previously appeared in eight games with Orlando on two 10-day contracts.

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Roy Parry at rparry@orlandosentinel.com. Follow on Twitter @osroyparry

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