Fri, 31 Mar 2023

Moving up in West race, Clippers face slumping Magic

Field Level Media
18 Mar 2023, 04:40 GMT+10

The Los Angeles Clippers carry a four-game winning streak into a Saturday matinee as they welcome the visiting Orlando Magic, who are playing the third game of a four-game road trip.

The Clippers (37-33) improved to 4-0 on a five-game homestand Wednesday with a 134-126 win over the Golden StateWarriors. Kawhi Leonard went for 30 points, Paul George recorded 24 points and seven assists, and Ivica Zubac finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds as Los Angeles' balance effectively countered a 50-point effort from the Warriors' Stephen Curry.

Russell Westbrook approached a triple-double in the win, going for 15 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

"That's what great players do," Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said of Westbrook, whose performance included zero turnovers. "He's getting used to playing with the guys and knowing where guys are going to be at, where the guys want the ball delivered, and just getting familiar. Like I said, it's only been nine games (since joining the Clippers roster)."

Los Angeles moved into fifth place in a hotly contested Western Conference. Through games played Thursday, just 3 1/2 games separated the Clippers in the No. 5 spot from Utah and New Orleans, the last two teams out in the race for the four play-in tournament bids.

Orlando (28-42), meanwhile, has lost ground in pursuit of the Eastern Conference's final play-in spot since dropping five of six with Thursday's 116-113 loss at Phoenix. The setback dropped the Magic to 0-2 midway through a Western Conference road swing that opened Tuesday with a 132-114 loss at San Antonio.

A positive coming out of Thursday's defeat in Phoenix was the continued strong performance of Markelle Fultz. He finished with 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting from the floor, dished nine assists and grabbed seven rebounds.

Fultz missed the first 21 games of the season with a fractured toe, but has been in the lineup every game since Nov. 30. Thursday marked his third game of 20-plus points in the month of March.

"Everyday I get out here, I feel a little bit better," Fultz said in Thursday's postgame press conference. "You're just seeing a guy who's going out there and competing and just appreciates the game and understands I don't' take this for granted.

"I'm continuing to get a chance to showcase the hard work that I'm putting in," he added. "Legs are under me better. I also have a different type of conditioning to be able to pick up and play on both ends of the floor."

Fultz's 13.8 points per game rank fourth on the Magic behind Wendell Carter Jr.'s 15.3, Franz Wagner's 18.7, and presumptive Rookie of the Year frontrunner Paolo Banchero's 20.1 points per game.

Banchero led the Magic to a 116-111 overtime win over the Clippers when the teams last met on Dec. 7. The rookie scored 23 points while Los Angeles' combination of Leonard and George were limited to a total of 25 points.

--Field Level Media

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