Orlando Magic 96, Los Angeles Lakers 94

Stifling defense and timely aggressiveness from Vince Carter helped the Orlando Magic hold off the L.A. Lakers, 96-94, in their first visit to Amway Arena since winning the 2009 NBA Finals, with Orlando coming away with its 5th straight win and dealing L.A. its third straight loss for its first three-game skid since acquiring Pau Gasol in 2008. Carter scored 15 of his team-high 25 points in the first quarter, and 10 of them at the foul line, with some hard-nosed drives to the hoop. The Magic prevailed when Kobe Bryant's contested 19-footer bounced off the iron just before the horn, surviving his 18-point, fourth-quarter burst which featured both big shots and baffling decisions. Dwight Howard managed just 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting, but snagged a game-high 16 rebounds. Notably, the Magic out-rebounded the Lakers by a 50-39 margin, and Matt Barnes got physical with Bryant on both ends of the court, as Orlando demonstrated it's become a bit tougher since the Finals. Here's the traditional boxscore, and here's Hoopdata's advanced version.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Lakers 91 103.3 40.3% 26.1 28.6 7.7
Magic 91 105.1 46.6% 38.4 37.5 21.9
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

This game might go down as another instant classic, as the Magic's win over Cleveland two weeks ago proved to be even though it featured neither a come-from-behind win nor a back-and-forth situation, as the Magic led for the game's final 41:08, and L.A. never tied the score. Instead, it was physical, contentious, heated, and well-played on both sides even in the face of some terrible officiating that hurt both teams in different ways. Barnes' tete-a-tetes with Bryant were so engaging and energetic that the journeyman forward's name began trending worldwide on Twitter. Barnes got in Bryant's face after a play, later threw an elbow at him, got in his face again, and even feigned throwing the ball at Bryant's face on an inbounds pass; Bryant didn't flinch, incidentally. In any case, Bryant got his revenge on Barnes by hitting a series of tough shots over and around him, with Barnes' replacement, Mickael Pietrus, an unfortunate recipient of collateral wrath.

Barnes, though, had the final laugh. With Orlando clinging to a three-point lead and 1:29 to play, Bryant tried to take Barnes one-on-one and attempted a dagger three-pointer for the tie. It missed badly. Carter grabbed the rebound and dished to Jameer Nelson, who pushed the tempo. L.A.'s transition defense scrambled, and Bryant lost track of Barnes, who spotted up on the right wing and drilled a crucial three-pointer to boost Orlando's lead to 6. Bryant is often guilty of losing his man in transition and away from the ball, which partially explains how Miami's Quentin Richardson sank 7 three-pointers against him two nights ago. A great find by Nelson and a great shot by Barnes, without question.

Nelson, really, was the key to this whole win. Apart from his 9 rebounds--one shy of tying a career-high--his stats don't really stand out: 15 points on 5-of-14 shooting (0-of-3 on three-pointers), 7 assists, 3 turnovers. However, he ran the Magic's offense extremely well, especially in pick-and-roll situations against the slower Derek Fisher and the frequently clueless Jordan Farmar. He wove in and out of L.A.'s defense, found the open man, and created clean looks for his teammates all night. His shooting percentage suffered due to his teammates' tending to leave him with the ball with the shot clock approaching 0 and forcing him to rush shots. A big game from him, even if not statistically stellar.

If you're Orlando, you're worried about the turnovers, sure. 20 in a 91-possession game, with each starter committing at least 2. I do think, though, that some were truly unique and rare, and not the result of mental error on the Magic's part. Carter got whistled for traveling while trying to throw an inbounds pass from the right sideline. Fisher drew an iffy offensive foul on Rashard Lewis simply by running into his back and falling down. Most puzzlingly, Bennett Salvatore negated Barnes' alley-oop dunk connection with Pietrus on a side out-of-bounds play, ruling offensive basket interference although the ball had clearly traveled to the other side of the rim--as in, it was not above the cylinder--before Pietrus stuffed it home. Now, the Magic caught some breaks as well. My point is not to criticize the officials, but rather to point out how singular some of those turnovers were. I'm fairly confident that a Magic inbounds passer won't get called for traveling again for several seasons.

Dwight Howard's inability to get anything going in the low post is also cause for concern, especially considering how effortlessly he seemed to score against the Lakers in the first game against them this season. 3 of Howard's 6 baskets were tip-ins, and another was a transition slam that Gasol could have avoided were he not busy jawing with a referee at the other end of the floor; Gasol took out his frustration on Howard with a one-handed swat across Howard's arm, an obvious flagrant. Andrew Bynum--when he wasn't seething on the bench due to foul trouble--gave him fits, and Gasol proved to be a worthy defender in the half-court as well. As such, the Lakers never had to send double-teams his way, as they did in January, which made things all the more difficult for Orlando's outside shooters, which in turn put more pressure on Nelson and Jason Williams, his backup, to create those open looks off dribble penetration and the pick-and-roll game.

Maybe there's a sense that Orlando got away with one here. Bryant scored 34 points, yes, but took 30 shots and consistently broke the Triangle offense in order to do so. Meanwhile, Gasol scored 20 of his own on 13 shots, many of them on offensive boards. I don't want to get on the Bryant Is A Selfish Player train, because he did finish with 7 assists, after all, and there are times when it was appropriate for him to call his own number. But I can't help but think a more patient approach on the Lakers' part, with more opportunities for Gasol in the high post, might have resulted in a Laker win.

Tip your cap to both teams for a hard-fought game and well-played defense. I'm not sure how many games Orlando can win when it turns the ball over more than once every five trips down the floor, but the fact that it came through today against the defending champions despite the miscues--grabbing almost 40% of your own misses can offset that--has to be encouraging. Carter's settling for jumpers after the first period? Less so. Nonetheless, 25 points on 10 shot attempts for Carter, which looks good in a vacuum, anyway.

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