The Orlando Magic offed the Los Angeles Lakers, 113-103, on Sunday night in stunning and stirring fashion at STAPLES Center behind a fourth-quarter rally which featured three dunks by Nikola Vučević, four Magic three-point baskets, and seven missed free throws by Dwight Howard. Indeed, Orlando upset its former franchise center in emphatic fashion, and could not ask for a better way to start their six-game roadtrip.
The Lakers opened the fourth quarter with a four-point advantage and managed to extend their lead to six points when Kobe Bryant and Howard returned at the 7:08 mark of the period, but the Magic responded quickly to regain the lead. Arron Afflalo, who scored a season-high 30 points, drilled a three-pointer from the left corner--his second such triple of the game--and Glen Davis followed a Howard miss with a long two in delayed transition. After a pair of missed Howard free throws, the Magic ran J.J. Redick off a pin-down. Redick drove the lane and drew Howard away from Vučević, and then dished to Vučević for a dunk and-one.
The Magic continued their impressive climb back despite Bryant and Howard sharing the floor. Davis hit another rhythm jumper, which Redick followed with a three-pointer off a Jameer Nelson assist. Nelson hit two three-pointers sandwiching another Redick-to-Vučević dunk connection. The latter of Nelson's threes put the Magic up 11 points at the 2:30 mark. In less than five minutes of game time, Orlando had taken command of the game and silenced the STAPLES crowd.
And Orlando did not relent, maintaining its intensity and aggression at the offensive end and on loose balls. Defensively, there wasn't much to its strategy: foul Howard away from the ball and force the six-time All-Star to make free throws. He didn't. Howard finished the game 9-of-21 from the foul line and 7-of-14 in the fourth.
Orlando's core players came up big: Afflalo's 30 points keyed the offense, while Nelson scored 19 points and dished 13 assists. J.J. Redick shot just 6-of-15 from the floor, but tallied 14 points and seven assists to offset his poor shooting. Davis scored an efficient 23 points (8-of-15 from the field, 7-of-8 from the line) and hauled in 12 boards. Vučević scored 17 points and had 12 rebounds as well, blocking four shots for good measure.
For the second straight game, the Magic played competitively in the first half against stiff competition. Orlando hung tough against Los Angeles, battling the host team to a 52-all tie in the opening 24 minutes. Afflalo, a UCLA product, scored 14 points in the first half, looking more energetic than ever in pinstripes. Perhaps renewing his rivalry with Bryant contributed to his activity level: though Bryant went off for 17 first-half points of his own, Afflalo held his own better than one might have expected.
Curiously, the Lakers did not involve Howard in many pick-and-rolls in the first half. Bryant elected to call his own number quite often in those sets, despite the fact that Vučević's weak defense in the pick-and-roll. When the Lakers did go to Howard against Vučević, they saw great results, as when Howard backed Vučević down and muscled in a dunk late in the third quarter. Moments later, Bryant hooked up with Howard on a backdoor alley-oop. On both occasions, Vučević could do nothing more than hold his arms straight up in the air.
Metta World Peace helped L.A. pull away in the third quarter by sinking three three-pointers, all from the high left wing. The second of those triples marked the 1000th of World Peace's career, making him the 68th player to reach that plateau.
The Magic opened the final quarter in a four-point hole, but had an opportunity to claw out of it as Bryant and Howard rested. Orlando exploited Howard's absence, as well as the presence of veteran forward Antawn Jamison, by attacking the lane early in the fourth. Davis beat him badly with a right-handed drive from a triple-threat position. On the next play, Nelson got by Chris Duhon and Jamison easily with a Davis screen, freeing himself to make an easy pass to Kyle O'Quinn for a dunk.
It bears noting that O'Quinn appears to have taken the backup center job from Gustavo Ayón, who recorded his first Did Not Play-Coach's Decision of the season on Sunday. O'Quinn, a rookie from Norfolk State, played physically in his limited minutes, and produced six points, two rebounds, and two blocks in his seven minutes. On one fourth quarter sequence, he bumped All-Star forward Pau Gasol under the rim as Gasol attempted to shoot, prompting a miss. Gasol grabbed the rebound, but O'Quinn bothered his putback attempt just enough for that offering to miss as well.