Magic set to start crucial 3-game trip at Houston as Fultz finds way

As guard Cole Anthony curled around a screen set by big man Moe Wagner near the left wing of the perimeter, Magic guard Markelle Fultz began to slowly move from the right elbow toward the corner.

Cut off by two Bulls defenders in the paint, Anthony kicked the ball out near the wing to Joe Ingles, who then quickly swung it to a wide-open Fultz.

The Orlando guard, who a moment earlier signaled for the ball, caught it and wasted no time attempting just his 16th 3-pointer of the season.

Fultz cashed in on the long-range bucket to total 17 points (66% FG) in 23 minutes, helping lift Orlando to a 113-98 victory over Chicago on Sunday night at Kia Center.

It marked the second straight game for Fultz in double-digit scoring and the third in the past five.

As the East’s No. 3 Magic (46-32) enter the final four contests of the regular season — starting Tuesday at Houston (Bally Sports Florida, 8) — the resurgence of Fultz as an offensive threat off the bench is notable for Orlando.

In his last five games Fultz averaged 9.8 points (46.7% FG), 4.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists with three total 3-pointers in 21.6 minutes.

During his five previous appearances, he averaged 3.6 points (36% FG), 2.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists with zero 3-pointers in 17.7 minutes.

“I feel better and better,” said Fultz, who’s missed 39 games due to injury this season. “As anyone knows, I don’t stop and I’m never going to stop. I love this game too much and I work too hard at it.

“It’s going to keep getting better. You haven’t seen the best yet.”

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If the best is yet to come for Fultz, that bodes well for the Magic because they could be missing two key pieces against the Rockets on the first night of a back-to-back.

Forwards Franz Wagner (right ankle sprain) and Jonathan Isaac (back spasms) both are questionable after exiting early from Sunday’s victory.

Isaac saw just five first-half minutes of action while Wagner didn’t return after leaving with 10 minutes left in the third quarter. Isaac didn’t play Friday at Charlotte due to the back spasms while Wagner previously missed eight games (Jan. 5-19) due to a right ankle sprain.

While those two are questionable, second-year guard Caleb Houstan wasn’t listed on Orlando’s injury report for the Rockets game. Houstan had missed four straight with a sprained right ankle.

For the Rockets, center Alperen Sengun — who leads Houston this season in points (21.1) and rebounds (9.3) — remains out due to a right ankle sprain. Reserve forward Jae’Sean Tate (right ankle sprain) is also out while rookie Amen Thompson (right finger tendon injury) is available.

The Rockets (38-40) were eliminated from postseason contention with a Sunday overtime loss to No. 5 Dallas (48-30) while the Magic moved up to third in the East with a win over the Bulls (37-41).

Orlando and Houston haven’t met since opening night at Kia Center when the Magic won by 30 points in late October.

The “magic number” for Jamahl Mosley’s squad to clinch a top-6 playoff seed in the East is 2. That’s the same magic number for Orlando to clinch the Southeast Division title.

The division title can come from either two Orlando wins, two Miami losses or one Orlando win plus one Miami loss.

If the Magic win all four of their remaining games, they’ll finish with a 50-win season and be the No. 2 seed in the East playoffs.

The lowest seed the Magic can be at the end of the regular season is 8. The Nos. 7-10 seeds in each conference compete in the Play-In for the Nos. 7 and 8 spots in the playoffs.

Regardless of where the Magic rank at the end of the regular season, they are excited to be back in the postseason. Orlando also knows it can’t lose focus entering a challenging 3-game trip before one more home contest Sunday to close out the regular season.

After Houston, the Magic travel to Milwaukee on Wednesday and Philadelphia on Friday before hosting the Bucks at Kia Center two days later.

“I’m not going to lie — It’s so hard to stay locked in because I can’t wait to play in the playoffs,” guard Jalen Suggs said. “It’s just something that a lot of us have never experienced before.”

Added Fultz: “It’s getting us perfectly ready for the playoffs. [We’re] taking it one game at time and playing Magic basketball.”

Jason Beede can be reached at