Few NBA experts gave the Orlando Magic a chance to do anything noteworthy this season except lose — and lose often. Truth be told, there was a stretch Monday night when few people inside Amway Center thought the Magic could recover against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But the Magic keep defying expectations.
They overcame a 15-point deficit midway through the third quarter and beat the Timberwolves 102-93. The victory gave Orlando its first three-game winning streak under coach Jacque Vaughn.
"We're playing harder as a team, and that's fun to see," Vaughn said. "We're believing in each other, but we still know we have a lot of work to do, and that's exciting also. But I think the growth has come. In each game that we go into, we have a good spirit about ourselves, a good feeling about each other."
It took perhaps a full half, but the Magic eventually matched the physicality of the Timberwolves' rugged frontcourt. Glen Davis finished with a game-high 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting while young center Nik Vucevic added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
The Magic (11-13) now find themselves within striking distance of the .500 mark.
They will play a homegame Wednesday night against the lowly Washington Wizards and a road game Friday night against the Toronto Raptors.
Confidence shouldn't be an issue for the Magic — not after they beat the Timberwolves (12-10).
"It's big for us, especially with where we're trying to head and the opportunity that we have coming up in the next couple of days to get to .500," Davis said. "We can't lay back. Our tempo has to be up. Our motor has to be going in order to get these games."
Davis helped provide that energy, channeling his first-half frustrations — frustrations that resulted in a technical foul for complaining about being whistled for charging — into on-court hustle. In the second half, he often sprinted ahead after Timberwolves shots to free himself for easy fastbreak baskets. He finished with five dunks.
"I don't know if it was running the floor or if it was cherry-picking," J.J. Redick joked. "You be the judge."
Redick added 18 points and provided four of his seven assists in the final period.
The Magic's big men also gave the team a big lift.
Josh McRoberts, Gustavo Ayón, Kyle O'Quinn, Andrew Nicholson, Davis and Vucevic added some physicality against the likes of center Nikola Pekovic, all-star power forward Kevin Love and backup power forward Derrick Williams.
"It boiled down to who was going to be the aggressor," Vaughn said. "That was my message at halftime. Who was going to be the aggressor? It wasrealsimple: That team was going to win, and it was great to see our bigs take that challenge on and play with extreme physicality.
"Goose got called for the fouls. Andrew got called for fouls. Nik, Glen, down the line. But I love it because it was a physical nature. It was an aggressive nature. It was trying to do the right things, and fouls are a part of the game."
Love still finished with 23 points and a game-high 15 rebounds while Pekovic added 19 points and 12 rebounds.
But as the two frontcourts played to a standoff, Orlando received 13 points from shooting guard Arron Afflalo and six points and 12 assists from point guard Jameer Nelson.
"We know that there are no teams in the NBA who are going to give up," Pekovic said. "They are going to keep coming at us. We didn't score. They played good. They didn't give up even when they were losing by 15 points. They kept playing."
Not only did the Magic keep playing, but they also kept proving the doubters wrong.