Magic’s Fultz ex­pands role

For­mer No. 1 pick to play in 20th game as he con­tin­ues re­cov­ery.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Roy Parry

Magic point guard Markelle Fultz drib­bled to his left, us­ing a screen from team­mate Khem Birch to get clear of War­riors guard Alec Burks. When War­riors cen­ter Wil­lie Cauley-Stein switched off the screen, Fultz quickly shifted his weight, drib­bled to his left and took a step back to cre­ate space from the 7-foot de­fender.

Fultz rose up along the base­line and re­leased a high-arch­ing shot to­ward the rim that found its mark.

The next time down the floor, Fultz at­tacked the de­fense off the drib­ble. War­riors for­ward Dray­mond Green — Golden State’s best de­fen­sive player — tried to knock the ball away from Fultz as he drib­bled near the wing, but Fultz quickly spun to his right. He hes­i­tated slightly, then mus­cled his way into the lane, leaned into Green, ab­sorbed the con­tact and con­verted the layup.

The Magic never trailed again. Fultz started strong and fin­ished stronger Sun­day against Golden State as he con­tin­ues to im­prove and ex­pand his role with the of­fense.

The Magic point guard de­liv­ered five points and four as­sists dur­ing his first stint of play­ing time, then made his fi­nal four shots — in­clud­ing the go-ahead layup with 2:22 re­main­ing — to help close out the 100-96 vic­tory at Amway Cen­ter.

“Ev­ery game I get out there I feel com­fort­able,” Fultz said. “I’m get­ting more and more con­fi­dent ev­ery time I step out there [on the floor]. Those are just the plays I’ve got to step up and make with guys be­ing out, just be­ing ag­gres­sive and be­ing a play­maker. If I see a seam [to] just go and score or get my team­mates open, I’m go­ing to go

do that.”

On a play mid­way through the fourth quar­ter, Fultz drove at Cauley-Stein and looked like he was go­ing to chal­lenge the War­riors cen­ter. In­stead, just be­fore he was about to jump, Fultz de­liv­ered a nolook pass to a cut­ting Jonathan Isaac, who fin­ished off the se­quence with an easy two-handed dunk.

Fultz fin­ished with 14 points on 6-of-12 shoot­ing and tied a sea­son-high with nine as­sists with­out a turnover. It was the sixth time this sea­son he’s fin­ished a game with no turnovers.

But it may have been the shots he didn’t make that turned out to be the most im­por­tant. Af­ter miss­ing all four of his tries in the third quar­ter (mak­ing him 2-of-8 at that point), Fultz re­grouped and told him­self to “stay ag­gres­sive.”

His eight fourth-quar­ter points, which were a sea­son-high, proved cru­cial to the vic­tory.

“It’s not like I’m shoot­ing bad shots or shoot­ing shots that I can’t make. I’m get­ting to where I want. I’m just miss­ing easy ones,” he said. “It’s more so not get­ting frus­trated with my­self. There were a cou­ple of games early [in the sea­son] I was pretty hard on my­self when I was miss­ing easy ones. And again, it’s Coach [Steve Clif­ford] talk­ing to me, it’s coach Hetz [Steve Het­zel] talk­ing to me, just say­ing, ‘You’re do­ing what you’re sup­posed to do.’ In or­der for us to go where we want to go, I’m go­ing to have to do stuff like that.

“All the great ones keep shoot­ing, and that’s what I’m go­ing to do.”

What Fultz will do Tues­day is play in his 20th game of the sea­son when the Magic face the Wizards at Cap­i­tal One Arena in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Be­cause of in­juries, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft has never played more than 19 games in a sea­son.

Now he’ll reach yet an­other mile­stone in a sea­son that’s been filled with them. More sig­nif­i­cantly, the Bal­ti­more na­tive will hit that mile­stone play­ing in his back­yard in front of fam­ily and friends, and against the team he grew up root­ing for.

“It’s go­ing to feel like I’m home. I haven’t been to D.C. in a minute, so I can’t wait to go back,” he said.

For Fultz, it’s also an­other step in his NBA jour­ney, but not one that will de­fine him, his sea­son or his ca­reer. Hav­ing the game taken away from him for es­sen­tially two years, he’s thank­ful for each day he gets to play basketball.

“It’s a bless­ing. Me, I’ve got goals. One of my goals is just to get this far,” he said. “I’m just mark­ing them off my cal­en­dar.

Ev­ery time I get an­other chance to go out there and play is just a bless­ing. To be able to play this many games, it feels good. I’m just go­ing to keep do­ing what I’m do­ing, fo­cus­ing ev­ery day and tak­ing care of my body and do­ing all the things I need to do to stay on the floor.”

The Magic cer­tainly like hav­ing him on the floor.

Fultz be­gan the sea­son un­der a min­utes re­stric­tion of 24 to 25 a game as the team closely mon­i­tored his phys­i­cal progress, mostly a Tho­racic Out­let Syn­drome is­sue in his shoul­der. That re­stric­tion seems to have eased lately. Fultz has av­er­aged 29.3 min­utes his past five games and hit a sea­son-high 30 min­utes against Golden State.

Isaac, who has fought through his own in­jury-re­lated ad­ver­sity, con­tin­ues to be im­pressed by Fultz’s ded­i­ca­tion and per­se­ver­ance.

“He’s tough. He’s tough as nails. Men­tally tough. Strong guy,” Isaac said. “He just con­tin­ues to put it to­gether. From the cir­cum­stances he’s been through, his abil­ity to just take it one day at a time and bounce back is ridicu­lous. It is very com­mend­able.”

Tues­day’s game tips off at 7 p.m. and will be broad­cast on Fox Sports Florida. The Magic, be­hind 30 points from Nikola Vuce­vic, beat the Wizards 125-121 when the teams met Nov. 17 in Or­lando.

WIL­LIE J. ALLEN JR./AP

Magic guard Markelle Fultz will play in his 20th game of the sea­son on Tues­day. Be­cause of in­juries, the third-year guard has never played more than 19 games in a sea­son.

Fultz

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