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Wagner-Anthony duo clicking again for Magic as poor Pistons await

Time and time again, the Magic‘s bench has served as a vital piece for success throughout the season.

Thursday’s road victory over the Cavaliers was the latest example when the team’s second unit was responsible for more than half of Orlando‘s points scored (63) in the 116-109 win at Cleveland.

It marked the third time this year that the Magic’s reserves scored 60 or more points in a game.

“What I think we’ve done a good job [at] with that unit is [we’ve] stayed consistent and do our job,” said Magic back-up center Moe Wagner, who totaled a team-high 22. “Even if they take stuff away, it takes the opposite team a lot of discipline and energy to take away what we do well.

“Just that consistent approach is something that we’ve embraced.”

Orlando (31-25) will need more of the same from its second unit Saturday at Detroit when Jamahl Mosley’s squad faces the Pistons on the first night of a back-to-back (Bally Sports Florida, 8).

Beede’s Breakdown: How Magic’s second unit came up big in win at Cleveland

Although the Magic’s bench averages the fourth-most points (41.9) in the NBA, the duo of Wagner and guard Cole Anthony had lost its footing in December and January when the team’s lineups underwent various changes while Orlando dealt with key injuries.

Following a strong November when the Magic went 11-3, they posted a sub-.500 record in each of the following months: 6-8 in December and 6-10 in January.

After the two-man combo of Wagner and Anthony posted plus-8.9 net rating during 14 games in November, the duo’s net rating plummeted to minus-8.4 the next month. That sudden change was mainly due to the pair’s defensive rating ballooning from 106.2 to 122.1 in 14 games in December.

The duo’s net rating still found itself in the negative in January (minus-2.0) but its defensive rating (106.4) leveled out. This time, it was the pair’s offensive rating (104.4) that was below its season average (111.7).

As the Magic have strung together six wins in their last eight games, Wagner and Anthony have looked more and more effective.

Through eight games in February, the duo’s net rating sits at plus-14.4 thanks to a strong offensive rating (115.9) and an even better defensive rating (101.5).

With a full week and four games remaining in February, Orlando already has captured 6 wins with just 2 losses this month.

It’s not a coincidence that the Magic perform better as a whole when Wagner and Anthony are clicking. Only one two-man grouping (Anthony and Paolo Banchero) has played in more games (54 vs. 53) together this season.

“There’s good chemistry,” Wagner said about the Magic’s reserves. “We really play off each other. We do a good job playing for each other. There’s not really a lot of agenda individually going on, and it kind of clicks together.

“Everybody knows their job and stays within themselves.”

While things are on a positive trajectory for Orlando, the same can’t be said for the league-worst Pistons (8-47).

Ahead of the NBA trade deadline earlier this month, Detroit dealt Alec Burks and Bojan Bogdanovic to the Knicks in exchange for two future second-round picks and four reserve players, including former Magic guard Evan Fournier.

Newly acquired guard Quentin Grimes (right knee sprain) could make his Pistons debut against the Magic. He’s listed as probable.

Orlando will likely need to rely on its reserves again. That’s because point guard Markelle Fultz (left knee injury maintenance) won’t be available for the third straight game.

Against the Cavaliers on Thursday, Mosley started Gary Harris in the backcourt alongside Jalen Suggs, with Banchero and Franz Wagner at forward and Wendell Carter Jr. at center.

As the game went on, however, Mosley kept Moe Wagner and Anthony on the floor for most of the fourth quarter while Carter and Suggs did not play in the final frame.

Suggs had exited in the third quarter after Carter’s elbow accidentally hit his head. Mosley said Suggs was doing “OK” following the win and the Magic guard wasn’t on Orlando’s injury report for the Pistons game.

Ultimately, Mosley stuck with what was working best on the court thanks in large part to Moe Wagner and Anthony, who combined for 21 of Orlando’s 30 points in the final frame.

“That group was doing such a great job together,” Mosley said. “You’ve got to keep with that flow of the game.”

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