The Orlando Magic team that beat Oklahoma City on Tuesday barely resembles the club that suited up on Saturday night, but there’s a reason for that: Injuries.
Orlando went without starting guard Evan Fournier and reserve forward Chuma Okeke who both suffered injuries in Thursday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Fournier is day-to-day with back spasms while Okeke is expected to miss several weeks due to a bone bruise on his left knee.
Those injuries don’t account for star forward Aaron Gordon who continues to play through hamstring issues and reserve guard/forward James Ennis III who hasn’t seen the floor this season due to hamstring issues of his own.
It was no sure thing the Thunder would end its three-game losing streak with Orlando’s outstanding injuries, but it did. Oklahoma City held an opponent under 100 points for the first time this season, defeating Orlando 108-99 Saturday on the road.
First Takeaway: Free Throws Aren’t Free
An indicator of how hard a team is playing can be characterized by free throws. Making them are important, but one can argue a high number of free throw attempts are equally as important.
Oklahoma City made just 52.6 percent of its free throw attempts (10-for-19) against the Magic on Tuesday. The Thunder followed that effort with a more pathetic effort Thursday versus the New Orleans Pelicans (5-for-15).
OKC made 19 of 21 free throws in Saturday’s rematch with Orlando, including 4-for-5 makes in the fourth quarter and nine more free throw attempts than the entire Magic team.
Drawing fouls, getting to the free throw line and making free throws are traits of a good basketball team.
Time will tell if the Thunder will be one of these at season’s end.
Second Takeaway: A Confidence Man
One of the delights from last season was the growth of forward Darius Bazley.
Bazley’s growing confidence in his shooting, driving and defending was instrumental in OKC’s playoff push a few months ago.
After nearly posting back-to-back double-doubles to start 2020-21, the NBA sophomore went through a rut against the Magic and Pelicans (5-for-20 shooting, 0-for-7 on 3-pointers, 13 points, 10 rebounds, six turnovers) earlier this week.
The Bazley from the bubble (Bubble Bazley?) made a return Saturday. He was ferocious on the boards (12 rebounds) and found his outside stroke (2-for-4 on 3-pointers).
Perhaps all he needed was to play in Orlando again.
Third Takeaway: Who He Coach For?
TNT’s Inside the NBA revolutionized the way we watch and think about studio shows on sports television.
A staple of Inside’s opening week NBA coverage is a segment called “Who He Play For?”
The game is simple. Host Ernie Johnson asks analyst Charles Barkley about players who may have changed teams over the offseason. Johnson presents a player and asks Barkley a question about the player: “Who he play for?”
Last week, Johnson threw a bonus question Barkley's way. Below is the result. (Video courtesy of TNT/NBA)
Daigneault is in fact from Massachusetts.