The Orlando Magic went into a building where they had lost seven straight times, without two of their starters, faced an opponent fighting to keep its playoff hopes alive and emerged victorious.
If the Magic wanted to go into the postseason with momentum, they couldn’t have asked for a better result.
Terrence Ross knocked down six 3-pointers and scored a season-high 35 points and Aaron Gordon finished with 27 points and seven rebounds as the Magic ended a seven-game losing streak in Charlotte with a 122-114 win over the Hornets on Wednesday night at Spectrum Center in the regular-season finale for both teams.
The Magic went 11-2 down the stretch and posted a 22-9 mark in their final 31 regular-season games to finish at 42-40 on their way to their first playoff berth since 2012.
How’s that for momentum?
“This is a great way to end the regular season and get ready for the postseason, and we’ve got to keep the energy and the vibe and stay in rhythm,” Ross said.
The Magic finish as the No. 7 seed and will now get ready to take on the Toronto Raptors in the best-of-seven first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs starting for Orlando with Game 1 Saturday at 5 p.m. in Canada. The teams split their four regular-season games this season.
Brooklyn secured the sixth seed with a 113-94 win over Miami in Dwyane Wade’s final NBA game.
Detroit claimed the eighth seed with a 115-89 win over the Knicks to earn a first-round date with Milwaukee.
“Well, we played hard and Terrence Ross was, I mean, just incredible,” Orlando coach Steve Clifford said.
With Vucevic out, Khem Birch started in his place and two-way player Amile Jefferson moved into the backup center spot. Jefferson wound up playing nearly 25 minutes, finishing with six points and seven rebounds, as Birch was hampered by early foul trouble.
“Everybody stepped up. Everybody competed,” Gordon said. “We got big contributions from Amile, which was great. And obviously T-Ross. Just flame. Flame, flame.”
The Magic finish with a winning record for the first time since 2012, and have a 17-game win improvement over last season — tops in the NBA.
While the Magic didn’t need a victory Wednesday to make the playoffs, finishing with a winning record was the icing on the cake to their bounce-back season.
“To be honest, I think 42-40 instead of 41-41 makes a big difference. It just sounds better,” Fournier said. “The way we fought this last stretch of the season means a lot and it shows that we’re a very solid group. Give credit to coach Clifford. It just feels good right now. We know we are going to play Toronto and I think we’re all looking forward to it.”
Kemba Walker scored 43 points in what could be his final game with the Hornets, who were eliminated from playoff contention. The all-star guard is an unrestricted free agent after this season.
“It was a disappointing game but you have to give Orlando credit. They played well,” Hornets coach James Borrego said.
Before the game, Borrego, who was an assistant and interim coach in Orlando, applauded the Magic’s playoff run.
"I'm really happy for them. They've been through a lot,” he said during his pregame media session.
Jeremy Lamb finished with 22 points for the Hornets, who played at times like a team in desperation mode. They also looked raggedy and out of sorts against a confident Magic team that kept countering every punch the Hornets threw at them.
Ross delivered most of them.
“When I hit a 3 it kind of flows through the team and gets me going, so I love it. I love seeing the guys happy,” he said. “We take pride in playing for each other, so anytime you see anybody else on the bench being happy and cheering you on that just makes you want to go that much harder.”
Ross gave his teammates plenty to cheer about.
Ross, known as the Human Torch for his ability to score points quickly when he comes into a game, finished 12-of-19 from the field and 6-of-10 from the 3-point line.
Overall the Magic shot 54.5 percent from the field and outscored the Hornets (39-43) 33-24 from the 3-point line.
Ross scored the team’s final 11 points of the first quarter on a dunk, a short runner in the lane, a 22-foot jumper, a 3-pointer and two free throws as the Magic closed the frame on an 18-7 run that erased an eight-point deficit.
Walker rallied the Hornets with 15 points in the second quarter on his way to a 22-point first half. But Ross, Gordon and Augustin combined for 19 points as the Magic went into the break leading 62-58.
Then it was Gordon’s turn to carry the Magic.
He scored seven of his team’s first eight points in the third quarter, capped by a thunderous one-handed putback dunk that brought “oohs” and “aaahhs” from the partisan Hornets crowd.
Gordon later threw down another dunk off a rebound before Fournier converted a three-point play to push the Magic ahead 80-72.
The lead reached 11 at 97-86 when Ross hit a 3 with 35.3 seconds left in the quarter.
Gordon finished the quarter with 11 points as the Magic shot 63.6 percent.
The Hornets charged from a 99-88 deficit to get within 101-99 nearly four minutes into the fourth quarter after three free throws by Walker.
Ross was there to answer again for the Magic. He drained a 3, hit a floater off the glass and then sank another 3 in a span of three possessions as the Magic ran out to a 109-102 lead.
“When he starts making shots, it’s hard to stop and it’s fun to watch,” Clifford said.
Gordon followed with a fadeaway jumper, Ross hit another 3 after a Carter-Williams steal and Birch threw down a dunk off a pass from Gordon to cap a 15-3 burst as the Magic stretched their advantage to 116-102.
The Hornets were done, and so was their season.
The Magic, on the other hand, hope theirs is just getting started.
On Twitter @osroyparry