April 15, 2014

The Orlando Magic had a hard enough time holding off Utah three weeks ago, and that was with the Jazz missing two starters.

Looking to win five straight games for the first time in nearly four years, the visiting Magic expect a much tougher test Thursday night against a Jazz team that nearly handed Golden State its first loss.

Orlando (10-8) looked like it would cruise to an easy win over a Utah team playing without Rodney Hood (right foot soreness) and Rudy Gobert (left ankle sprain) on Nov. 13. The Magic led by 22 in the second quarter and were up by 23 in the fourth before letting the Jazz pull within seven with 1:10 to go. Utah couldn't get any closer, however, and Orlando won 102-93 as Evan Fournier had a game-high 21 points.

The Magic had a similar fast start and late letdown Tuesday against Minnesota to open a five-game road trip. They led by 17 in the third quarter before allowing the Timberwolves to tie the score with 4:30 to play. They then clamped down defensively, as Minnesota missed six of its final seven shots and won 96-93 for a fourth straight victory. They haven't won five in a row since January 2012.

"We have a pretty nice streak going, but we have to keep it up," Nikola Vucevic said. "We have a tough one against Utah coming up. They have a good team. Gobert is going to be playing and he changes the look of their team."

The Magic, however, have gotten a reprieve of sorts since the Jazz ruled out Gobert indefinitely Wednesday night due to a sprained MCL in his left knee. The 7-foot-1 center helped limit Utah's opponents to 35.7 percent shooting - the lowest mark by an player who averages at least 30 minutes.

Though the Magic don't have to worry about Gobert patrolling the paint, they'll also have to contend with Hood's offense. Fourth on the team in scoring at 13.1 points per game, Hood had a chance to put the Jazz (8-8) ahead of the Warriors by two on Monday but missed a 3 with five seconds left in a 106-103 loss.

''We competed against the best team in the league and gave ourselves a chance to win,'' said Gordon Hayward, who is averaging 24.7 points and has made 8 of 15 3-pointers in the last three games. ''Had a shot at the end. Couple mistakes here and there. ... And maybe it's a different outcome, but can't complain."

The Magic will also have one of their top players available this time that didn't play last month. Victor Oladipo sat out under the league's concussion protocol and his shift from starter to reserve has coincided with the Magic's winning streak. He is providing a spark off the bench, averaging a team-best 18.3 points in the last four games.

Fournier is averaging 10.3 points in the last four - 6.6 below his team-leading average.

Defense has keyed the winning streak, as the Magic are allowing 91.3 points and 39.4 percent shooting in the last four after giving up an average of 105.8 points in dropping three of the previous four.

''The only way to be a winning team is by defending,'' Vucevic said. ''Some games we might go out there and outscore people, but we know that for us to be consistently winning we have to defend.''

Orlando's 98-93 win at Utah last December snapped a five-game losing streak in Salt Lake City.

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