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After he boarded the plane for the team’s recent flight to Cleveland, Orlando Magic rookie Cole Anthony began walking down the aisle and saw a face he didn’t recognize.
Anthony was unaware the team had recently signed a new player.
It was Moritz Wagner.
To clarify, Anthony knows who Wagner is. He just didn’t know that was Wagner on the plane.
“I had no idea that we picked up a new guy,” Anthony said. “I’m walking and he’s sitting up front, and I’m like, ‘Yo. Who is this dude?’ But I’m very familiar with him when he was at Michigan and all that. My mom went to Michigan. So I like him a lot. Happy to see him. Very happy.”
Although introductions are no longer in order, Anthony and his teammates aren’t calling Wagner by his typical name of Moe. As Anthony explained, the Magic already have a Mo — Mo Bamba — on the roster, so Wagner is going by Vic, a shortened version of his first name, Victor.
And you can bet the Magic were excited to have Vic on the floor during Saturday’s game against the Grizzlies.
Wagner, in just his third game with the team, delivered a season-high 24 points that included a clutch 3-pointer down the stretch as he helped Orlando rally from a 20-point deficit to post a 112-111 victory at Amway Center.
Wagner made his first two 3-pointers on his way to eight first-quarter points. He wound up 4-for-6 from behind the arc, although none were bigger than his corner 3 — taking a pass from Anthony — that tied the game at 109-109 with 1:16 to play.
Anthony sank a 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds left to give Orlando the victory.
Wagner also had five rebounds along with two blocks and made all four of his free-throw attempts. His performance didn’t surprise Magic acting head coach Tyrone Corbin, who said Wagner already is making an impact on his teammates.
“He’s not afraid of moments,” Corbin said. “He’s learning more of what we do here to kind of be able to execute on the floor, but his experience allows him to be able to function without really knowing exactly what calls are or what situations may be. He just makes the basketball play, and his toughness has rubbed off on the other guys. I think he’s come in and making the best of the moment. He has an opportunity here to show what he can do and he’s doing a great job for us.”
The Magic signed Wagner to a rest-of-the-year contract on Tuesday and he made his debut Wednesday in Cleveland. On Friday, he was thrust into the starting rotation after rookie forward Chuma Okeke went out with an ankle injury.
Wagner’s recent NBA story exemplifies the resiliency the Magic showed in Saturday’s comeback.
For his part Wagner said he’s excited to be in Orlando, but more so just to be playing basketball again. Waived by the Celtics on April 16, he’s eager to use his time with the Magic.
What name his teammates use for him is the least of Wagner’s worries. Prior to his waiving by Boston, Wagner had been traded on March 25 by Washington to the Celtics in a three-team trade involving Chicago.
“Getting waived isn’t fun, I’ll be honest with you,” Wagner said. “That’s totally different than getting traded. Emotionally and mentally, that’s something you’ve got to deal with and show resiliency and move on from that. So I take a lot of pride in the fact that I’m doing that, and kind of take it day by day.
“I’m very happy to be here; I’m not going to lie. I’m just trying to play basketball because at the end of day it’s a game and you’re supposed to enjoy it, and this group is super competitive. I can feel that. I just believe in the fact that if you work hard every day, things will work out well for you eventually so I give that trust out there and the rest is up to the basketball gods.”
Wagner, perhaps, could use the final weeks of the season to play his way into a more permanent role with the Magic.
Orlando and Wagner now have eight games remaining, starting with Monday’s contest in Detroit. While both teams have been eliminated from postseason contention, their final matchup of the season could have draft implications.
The top three teams in the reverse standings — where the worst record is on top — each has a 14.0% chance of getting the No. 1 pick through the draft lottery. The fourth-place team has a 12.5% chance, fifth is at 9.8% and sixth is at 9.7%.
Going into Sunday’s schedule, the Rockets (16-48) had the league’s worst record, followed by the Pistons (19-45), Timberwolves (20-45), Magic (20-44), Thunder (21-43) and Cavaliers (21-43). The Rockets and Thunder were in action Sunday.
Monday’s contest tips off at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on Bally Sports Florida.