Pacers seek to maintain mastery of struggling Magic

Two weeks ago, the Orlando Magic headed into an early-season test against the Boston Celtics off to a surprising start.Now the Magic are in danger of falling under .500.

Orlando will attempt to stop a four-game losing streak Monday night when it hosts the Indiana Pacers, a team it rarely beats.

On Nov. 5, the Magic entered their first meeting with the league-leading Celtics holding an unexpected 6-3 record. Then they shot 36 percent, missed 23 of 29 3-point attempts, trailed by 23 and wound up with a 104-88 loss.

That defeat is part of two weeks of disappointing results for the Magic. Orlando (8-8) will be looking to rebound from matching the worst home loss in team history.

After a disappointing four-game Western trip, the Magic were dealt an ugly 125-85 loss to the Utah Jazz on Saturday. It was Orlando's sixth loss in eight games and brought back memories of last season, when the Magic led the league with eight losses by at least 30 points.

Now the Magic go up against an Indiana team that has won each of its past six visits to Orlando and 11 of the past 12 meetings overall.

The Magic hope to avoid another bad night, especially with what lies next. After Monday, Orlando starts another four-game trip, only to return for home games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors.

"Monday is a must-win for this group,"Magic guard Elfrid Payton said. "Obviously, it's still early. We still have time to get better. But internally, I feel like we've got to show some fight."

Orlando has seen some key numbers drop over the past two-plus weeks.In their first eight games, the Magic averaged 114.9 points, shot 48.9 percent and made 44.2 percent from 3-point range. In their past eight games, those numbers are down to 99.6 points, 44.5 percent and 34 percent from 3-point range.

And that's only one side of the ball.

On defense, the Magic weren't great in their surprising start, allowing 106.8 points per game, but they held teams to 28.6 percent from 3-point range. In their past eight contests they have allowed 109.9 points, 48 percent shooting and 39.3 percent from 3-point range.

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Things were so bad Saturday that the Magic trailed by 46 points at one point and didn't get their first assist until seven minutes into the game. Aaron Gordon led the Magic with 18 points but missed all four 3-point attempts. Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic combined for 19 points on 7-of-22 shooting.

"We'll see how we respond to this game," Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. "I'm less concerned with what happened in this game and more concerned with how we respond from it."

While the last two weeks did not go well for Orlando, the past week may have been Indiana's best showing of the season.

The Pacers (9-8) have won four of five since dropping four straight from Nov. 3-8. During the hot stretch, Indiana is averaging 108.6 points on 48.2 percent shooting and allowing 102.6 points per game.

After rallying from 22 points down to post a 107-100 win against Detroit on Friday, Indiana rolled to a 120-95 victory at Miami on Sunday night. The Pacers shot 60 percent, held a 30-point lead and placed six in double figures.

Bojan Bogdanovic hit six 3-pointers and scored a season-high 26 points, and Myles Turner added 25 on 11-of-14 shooting after going 3 of 13 and sitting for the final 16 minutes Friday.

"I didn't have such a great game last game," Turner said. "It's all about bouncing back. This was a statement game for me."

The Pacers allowed 13 points in the third quarter and shut down Miami guard Dion Waiters, who missed all 10 of his shots and didn't score.

"I hope this shows us that we're creating an identity for ourselves, that we can (play) up-tempo style basketball and defend,"Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. "Last game, I thought we came out and played a good third and fourth quarter against Detroit. Tonight, we did the same thing."

In their past six quarters, the Pacers have outscored opponents by a 180-137 margin while shooting 54.9 percent (72 of 131), including 56.4 percent (22 of 39) from 3-point range.