Thursday , Nov , 04 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Magical debut: Francis scores game-winner for Orlando

=== Magical debut: Francis scores game-winner for Orlando ===

Orlando, FL (Sports Network) – Steve Francis made a game-winning layup in his
Orlando debut, leading the Magic to a 93-92 season-opening victory over
Milwaukee at TD Waterhouse Centre.

Francis posted 26 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in his first
regular-season game with the team since the offseason trade that sent Tracy
McGrady to the Houston Rockets.

His layup, off an inbounds pass from a rejuvenated Grant Hill, came after
Milwaukee’s Michael Redd banked in a jumper at the other end to give the Bucks
a one-point lead with 3.5 seconds left on the clock.

“I’m just excited to get my first victory here in my career in Orlando,”
Francis said. “I’ve hit some shots in my career, but I think this one is even
more special. There’s a lot of significance behind it.”

Hill scored 20 points on 10-of-21 shooting, and made a fadeaway baseline
jumper with 19 seconds left in the game that gave Orlando a brief 91-90 lead
before Redd’s shot and Francis’ reply.

Rookie Dwight Howard, who was the No. 1 overall pick by Orlando, had a nice
debut with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

“I don’t think I was that nervous,” Howard said, “but I was real hyped. Had
fun.”

The Magic have now won five consecutive season-openers. Their first win last
year was followed by a disastrous 19-game losing streak, during which Doc
Rivers was fired and replaced by current head coach Johnny Davis.

“I thought tonight was a good step for us,” Davis said. “One of the things
that we talked about in the preseason is that we’ll have close games and we’ll
need people that will step up…and that’s what Steve Francis did for us
tonight.”

Orlando mustered a league and franchise-low 21 wins last season.

Redd scored 19 points in the loss, Milwaukee’s third-straight season-opening
setback. Keith Van Horn added 14 points and 10 boards, while Dan Gadzuric and
Zaza Pachulia scored 11 apiece.

“They made some plays, we made some plays, and they made the last play,”
Milwaukee head coach Terry Porter said.

The Magic led 50-47 after a tight first half, and then opened the third
quarter on a 10-2 run to go ahead by 11 points. They extended that lead to
68-53 on consecutive dunks by Howard and Francis midway through the quarter.

But the Orlando reserves sputtered in the final minutes of the third and
allowed Milwaukee to creep within 74-67 heading into the fourth.

The Bucks then rallied to take an 83-81 lead on Pachulia’s lay-in with 6:57
remaining in the game. That capped an 8-2 spurt, and the teams played close
over the next few minutes.

Orlando regained the lead on Kelvin Cato’s hook shot with 2:35 left, which
made it 89-87, but Toni Kukoc drained a three-pointer at the other end to put
Milwaukee back on top.

MIL ORL