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Magic fall at Thunder on second night of back-to-back

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Magic took one step forward but two steps back when it came to player availability Saturday night against the Thunder.

Forward Jonathan Isaac, who missed nine games due to a right hamstring strain and a 10th Friday night in Miami because of an illness, was available again for Orlando at Paycom Center.

Although the versatile defender made his return, the Magic were without guard Markelle Fultz (left knee injury maintenance), center Wendell Carter Jr. (right knee tendinitis), forward Franz Wagner (right ankle sprain), guard Gary Harris (right calf strain) and forward Joe Ingles (left ankle injury maintenance) on the second night of a back-to-back.

All of that contributed to the Magic’s 112-100 loss as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 37 points to help the Thunder tie Minnesota for the Western Conference lead. Gilgeous-Alexander had his high-point total without making a 3-pointer. He missed all four of his 3-point tries but was 13 of 16 inside the arc and made 11 of 12 free throws.

Jalen Williams scored 16 points and Chet Holmgren added 15 to help the Thunder improve to 27-11.

Paolo Banchero had 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for the Magic, who lost their third straight.

Fultz saw 17 minutes of action during Friday night’s loss at Miami, the most he’s played in three games since returning to the court after missing nearly 30 games due to left knee tendinitis.

Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said before Saturday’s game that it’s part of the plan for Fultz not to play in both games of a back-to-back as he slowly ramps up his minutes after coming back from injury.

Ingles played 20 minutes during the Magic’s 99-96 loss at the Heat. He previously missed 13 games in a row with a sprained left ankle.

“We talked about it [Friday] night postgame — being able to be smart with bringing these guys back into the fold,” Mosley said. “Knowing it’s a marathon and understanding it’s more about how we can keep them healthy longer.”

Carter, Harris and Wagner were not available for the fourth straight contest.

Saturday’s game served as the first meeting between Banchero and Holmgren, who were drafted first and second overall, respectively, in 2022.

Holmgren missed all of last season due to a Lisfranc injury to his right foot. Entering Saturday’s game, the 7-1 Holmgren was averaging 18.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.5 blocks this year.

He became the first player in NBA history to average 50/50/90 shooting splits and score 100+ points through his first seven career NBA games.

Banchero has been on a tear as of late for the Magic as well. The Orlando forward, who scored team-high 25 points at Miami, has averaged 29.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.0 assists in the last 7 games.

It’s not only Banchero’s scoring that boosts the Magic.

When opposing defenses put so much focus on Banchero, it allows him to kick the ball out to shooters on the perimeter or find teammates cutting to the basket for points in the paint.

Against the Heat, he recorded a team-high six assists (tied with Ingles).

Mosley hopes opposing coaches recognize what Banchero has done for the Magic so far this season as the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year pushes for an All-Star selection.

“I really hope they see it. … It’s hard not to,” Mosley said in Miami. “The way he dominates a game, impacts a game and makes those around him better, he is the focal point of game plans.

“With that being said, coaches should recognize exactly why he is an All-Star.”

After battling the Thunder, the Magic continue their four-game trip against the Knicks on Monday for a matinee matchup on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Madison Square Garden.