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Magic strive to close out rough January with win at San Antonio

January has not been kind to the Magic.

Orlando opened the new year sitting in fourth place in the East at 19-13.

Since then, Jamahl Mosley‘s squad has fallen to the eighth spot in the conference standings at 24-23. The Magic have gone 5-10 in this month, including five losses of 3 points or less.

If those single-possession contests were flipped, such as Orlando’s double-overtime loss at Sacramento on Jan. 3 or last Friday’s 1-point loss at Memphis, the team would be sitting at 10-5 for the month, 29-18 overall and likely sixth in the East.

It’s a reminder of just how small the margin of error is in the NBA.

“You have to take a lesson with every loss,” Magic forward Paolo Banchero said Monday night. “We’ve had a lot of close games this year — some that’s gone our way, some that haven’t.

“We just have to take it, learn from it and when we do get in this situation again, just [be] ready to come out on top.”

The Magic are aiming to close out January on a high note against the Spurs on Wednesday night after suffering another single-digit shortcoming Monday at Dallas.

Although San Antonio features No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama, the team is last in the West and recorded only its 10th win this past weekend.

The Spurs allow opposing teams to score 121.4 points, the fifth-most in the league. Similar to the Magic, San Antonio struggles from beyond the arc (34.6%).

Wednesday’s matchup also serves as the first meeting between the NBA’s last two No. 1 picks in Wembanyama and Banchero.

One key for Orlando will be coming out of halftime with a strong third quarter. The Magic are 4-22 when trailing after the third, but 20-1 when leading (or tied) entering the fourth.

The Magic’s 115.0 offensive rating in third quarters in the last 15 games ranks 22nd in the league. Their defensive rating in that same span is 114.1 (sixth). That’s just a net gain of plus-0.9 which explains the close losses.

Phoenix, for example, has a 137.4 offensive rating (first) in the last 15 games and only allowed 106.4 (third). The Suns are 10-5. Cleveland’s 119 offensive rating is middle of the pack at 15th, but its 104 defensive rating (first) is why the Cavs are 12-3 in their last 15 games.

It’s what happened at Dallas when the Mavericks flipped the script in the third frame and outscored the Magic 35-12. It was the lone quarter that Orlando didn’t win and proved costly.

Beede’s Breakdown: How Magic hurt themselves in road loss at Mavericks

The Magic are set to get back point guard Markelle Fultz at San Antonio after he sat out the second night of a back-to-back against the Mavericks because of left knee injury maintenance.

He previously missed 27 games to due to left knee tendinitis and regularly sat the second game of back-to-backs since returning earlier this month.

The lone player on Orlando’s injury report is Gary Harris, who will miss his 14th straight with a right calf strain. Rookie Jett Howard remains on assignment in the G League with Osceola while guard Kevon Harris is not available as a two-way player.

For the Spurs, forwards Keldon Johnson (left elbow laceration), Zach Collins (right ankle sprain) and Dominick Barlow (two-way) are questionable.

Banchero, McClung named Rising Stars

For the second season in a row, Banchero has been selected to participate in the Rising Stars game, which will be played in Feb. 16 in Indianapolis at Gainbridge Fieldhouse as part of NBA All-Star Weekend.

TNT will televise the annual showcase at 9 p.m. ET.

The player pool for Rising Stars consists of 11 NBA rookies, 10 second-year players and seven G League players. The 21 NBA players, selected by NBA assistant coaches, will be drafted onto three seven-player teams (Tuesday, 4 p.m. on the NBA App). The seven NBA G League players, selected by the league office, will comprise the fourth team.

Osceola Magic guard Mac McClung was among the seven G League players selected. He has played and started in 25 games between the G League Showcase Cup and regular season for Osceola, averaging 24.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.0 steals in 35.2 minutes.

McClung and Alondes Williams of the Sioux Falls Skyforce will be the first standard G League contract players to ever participate in the event.

Thirteen players have represented Orlando during the Rising Stars game, including four current members: Cole Anthony (2022), Jalen Suggs (’22), Franz Wagner (’22, ’23) and Banchero.

Email Jason Beede at jbeede@orlandosentinel.com or follow him on X, known as Twitter, at @therealBeede.