Center Wendell Carter Jr. sat for the third straight game in the Orlando Magic’s 131-124 home loss to the Utah Jazz, but hopes to play in the next game.
Carter told the Orlando Sentinel ahead of Thursday’s loss that he plans to return to the lineup on Saturday against the Miami Heat at the Amway Center, the last of four games.
He missed Sunday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers and Tuesday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks because of hip pain.
Carter told the Sentinel that he began experiencing pain in his hip and groin areas after the team returned to Central Florida from last week’s three-game road trip.
He was seen doing exercises on the court after the shooting on Thursday morning.
Carter told Sentinel he’s feeling good before saying his goal is to return on Saturday, which depends on his assessment after treatment.
“He’s doing everything they ask him to do to come back in good shape,” said coach Jamahl Mosley. “He will continue to be monitored on how he responds to each thing.”
Moe Wagner (11 points, 6 rebounds in 23 minutes) started Carter’s last three games and was productive, averaging 16.5 points (61.1% shooting), 7.5 rebounds and 2 assists in losses to Bucks and Blazers.
Goga Bitadze (3 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists in 21 minutes) made the most of his time as a big reserve, averaging 8 points and 5 rebounds in 13.2 minutes in his previous two games.
But there was a notable drop in the Magic’s defense without Carter.
Orlando had defensive ratings (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 119 or worse in losses to the Blazers, Bucks and Jazz. The Spurs’ worst defense in the league allows 119.6 points per 100 possessions.
It didn’t help matters that starting point guard Gary Harris (12 points, 2 steals), who was back on the lineup, was also sitting out the previous two games because of a sore left adductor (inner hamstring). .
The lack of Carter’s defensive presence in the starting lineup was again felt on Thursday, as the Jazz broke into Orlando early in the first and third quarters.
The Magic’s 3-point shooting (16-of-34) kept them in the game, but their inaccurate free-throw shooting (20-of-31) and overall poor defensive play were too much to overcome.
The Jazz, commanded by the 31 points of Lauri Markanen, hit 55.7% of the field, 38.2% in 3s, hit 20 of 21 free throws and scored 64 points in the paint.
Magic didn’t find any consistent answers.
Paolo Banchero led the Magic with 26 points and 8 rebounds, while Franz Wagner added 24 points.
Markelle Fultz recorded 25 points and 6 assists.
“A big part of it is his instincts,” Mosley responded when asked what Carter does defensively that is hard to replace. “He does a tremendous job of knowing different situations and coverage. His ability to move his feet into the guard of some of the more dynamic centers, as well as being able to switch into some of these faster guards, he does a great job.
“You put it as a pick-and-roll combination with those guards coming out, he can keep his chest in front of the ball. As that big one is rolling back to the ledge, he is able to come back with quick instincts. These are some of the readings he does that are difficult for many people to reproduce.”
This article first appeared in OrlandoSentinel.com. Khobi price by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.
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