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Magic fall to Thunder, fail to cap Shaq’s jersey retirement with a victory

ORLANDO, Fla. — When Shaquille O’Neal played his final game for the Magic before leaving for the Lakers in 1996, only two members of the current Orlando squad were alive: Joe Ingles and Gary Harris.

Although the majority of the Magic don’t remember O’Neal playing for the same franchise as they do now, the team still fully understood just how monumental of a night it was Tuesday at Kia Center when the franchise retired his No. 32 and how he changed the league.

“We all know Shaq,” Harris said after practice Monday. “One of my first jerseys was a Shaq Magic jersey. Everybody knows the type of career, what type of center he was. It’s pretty cool we get to witness that and be a part of it. He’s Magic history.”

Added Magic big man Wendell Carter: “Definitely the most dominant big man, ever. To be on the same team that he once played for is special. I always think about that.”

O’Neal, who was on the call for TNT with former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, former teammate Dennis Scott and play-by-play broadcaster Kevin Harlan, spoke highly of the current Magic team.

Orlando sat sixth in the East, above the Play-In Tournament cutoff, entering Tuesday’s matchup against the Thunder but dropped a half-game behind Indiana after the 127-113 loss. It was the first night of a back-to-back for the Magic, who host the Knicks on Wednesday.

The contests are Orlando’s last two before this weekend’s NBA All-Star break that will feature Magic forward Paolo Banchero for the first time.

Banchero (23 points, 10 rebounds) and Wendell Carter (22 points) led the Magic (29-25) in scoring, but they had no answer for the Thunder’s Jalen Williams (33 points) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (32 points). Franz Wagner (15 points) shot 5 for 16 and Orlando went 11 for 36 from 3 (30.6%).

Chet Holmgren added 13 points, nine rebounds and five blocks for the Thunder (37-17).

O’Neal spoke to the team at shootaround Tuesday morning and told the group that there’s a chance for them to continue to rise up the conference standings as the playoffs begin to take shape.

“I really like Paolo,” O’Neal said. “Beautiful player. I like the team. They seem to be together. I like the Wagner boys [Franz and Moe]. I like the kid from Australia [Ingles].

“It’s pretty much there. Probably need one or two more pieces to really get to that next level. But they play hard, they can compete and they can go pretty far. They just have to believe it. But it all starts with Paolo.”

The defense couldn’t get stops as Oklahoma City shot 54.8% (46-for-84). The guard play also was lacking Tuesday. Starter Markelle Fultz (four points) attempted only five shots. Harris (six points) and Cole Anthony (five points) didn’t provide enough spark off the bench to compensate.