Depleted Magic face tough reality in Houston

NBA

Magic guard Markelle Fultz quietly settled into a role of comfort last season in Orlando, establishing himself as a starter while also creating distance between the tumult that engulfed his start with Philadelphia as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

On Wednesday, Fultz and the Magic were dealt an unfortunate blow when Fultz suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during a 105-94 home victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Orlando will take the floor for the first time without Fultz on Friday at the Houston Rockets, doing so needing to compensate for both his production and his role as a teammate.

“There’s not much to say: It’s just horrible news,” Magic guard Evan Fournier said. “There’s not much else to say.”

Magic coach Steve Clifford added: “It’s crushing on so many levels.”

Fultz was averaging career highs in points (12.9) and assists (5.4) prior to the injury. In his stead, the Magic will lean on rookie Cole Anthony, who is averaging 8.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists over 21.5 minutes per game. Those are impressive numbers, but the Magic will utilize some flexibility moving forward in developing a rotation at point guard with Fultz sidelined.

Orlando entered Thursday trailing only the 76ers in the Eastern Conference. How the Magic handle the loss of Fultz on the court will shape their immediate future as upstart contenders.

“Cole will start and we’re looking at some other things, some bigger lineups,” Clifford said. “That’s what we’re in the process of doing now. We had a long staff meeting (Thursday) morning about it. There’s a lot of things to consider. Some of it could be game-by-game, but Cole — in my opinion — he’s the starter right now and I think that he’s ready to take it and grow with it and we all have great confidence in him.”

The Rockets played their first game this season without starting center Christian Wood (sore left knee) in their 114-107 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, the latest hiccup in a rocky start to their season. Houston was without DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Gordon and John Wall for two games to start this season and defeated the Sacramento Kings without James Harden in its fourth game. Forward Danuel House Jr. has missed the past two games with back spasms.

Given so much attrition, it comes as no surprise that the Rockets have appeared so ragged on both ends of the court. As for the offense led by Harden, he is averaging 18 points on 32.3 percent shooting since his return from a sprained ankle and has missed 12 of 16 3-point attempts the past two games.

There are lingering concerns that Harden isn’t quite yet back to his usual, unstoppable form.

“Teams are doing things to make it hard on him,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said of Harden. “They’re trapping him, crowding him. He’s making the right plays — he had 12 assists (against Indiana).”

–Field Level Media

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