Magic searching for breakthrough vs. Raptors

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The Orlando Magic could not beat the Raptors in two visits to Toronto this season, but on Friday have their first chance to play the NBA champions at home.

The Magic have had trouble winning anywhere on the road this season. Their 116-104 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night was their first win in eight road games this season and ended a four-game trip.

“It’s why I feel good about this team is that they play three games on the road in a short period of time and it’s been a struggle,” Magic coach Steve Clifford told reporters. “They could have put their heads down. They could have come in here, last game of the trip, mailed it in and a lot of teams in this league would have done it, and I thought we fought hard.”

The Raptors are coming off a 126-98 blowout of the New York Knicks at home Wednesday that gave them a chance to use all their players, including rookie Shamorie Ponds for the first time.

“You just want to play the right way, play the way that we want to play and (with) the things that we are working on,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “It’s an opportunity for them. It was Shamorie’s first NBA game, you know, and he got himself a couple of buckets. It’s good, you have to do that stuff sometimes and it is nice to do it in a game like that.”

The Raptors defeated the Magic in five games in the first round of the playoffs last season after the teams split the regular-season series 2-2.

This season, the Raptors beat the Magic 104-95 on Oct. 28 and 113-97 on Nov. 20.

The second loss in Toronto was particularly damaging to the Magic. They lost Aaron Gordon and leading scorer and rebounder Nikola Vucevic with ankle injuries in a three-minute stretch in the first half.

Gordon could return Friday night and Vucevic is expected to be re-evaluated this weekend. Reserve point guard Michael Carter-Williams has missed the past four games with a left hip irritation.

“The one thing we don’t want with any of the three of them is we don’t want one of those hurry back and then he’s in-out and not able to play well or something where they get hurt again,” Clifford said.

The Magic have been using a starting lineup of Wes Iwundu at small forward for Gordon, Khem Birch at center for Vucevic, and regulars Jonathan Isaac at forward, Evan Fournier and Markelle Fultz as guards.

The Raptors have continued to excel despite playing without Serge Ibaka (sprained ankle) and Kyle Lowry (fractured thumb). Both were injured in a road win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Nov. 8. They are both nearing a return to the lineup, but the Raptors are 7-2 without them.

Pascal Siakam had 31 points Wednesday and Fred VanVleet had 15, with both sitting out the fourth quarter with two other starters, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell.

“We just did enough to pull away, give ourselves some room,” VanVleet said. “And the guys off the bench kind of gave us the rest of the separation we needed to not go back in the game.”

–Field Level Media