The Orlando Magic prolonged the Los Angeles Lakers' road misery Friday night, dealing them a 92-80 defeat that wasn't as close as that final score may indicate. L.A. had just 22 points with 3:05 to play in the second period, for example, and Lakers players not named Kobe Bryant shot 5-of-28 (17.9 percent) before intermission.
In what had been billed as a showdown between Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, arguably the league's two top centers and whose names have been linked in trade rumors for one another, Howard prevailed easily. He saddled Bynum with three fouls to limit L.A.'s center to nine first-half minutes. Though Bynum played a key role in limiting Howard to 6-of-14 shooting, Howard otherwise dominated the matchup. His 21 points came two points shy of matching the combined production of Bynum and All-Star power forward Pau Gasol, while Howard's 23 rebounds topped the Lakers' pair by one.
It'd be a mistake to read too deeply into the individual Howard/Bynum matchup, however. "When you're talking about who's the best in any position, you're not looking at one thing," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "You're looking at a whole body of work." Orlando's coach said Howard is still the best center in the league, but was complimetary of Bynum, calling him "a great player."
Howard had plenty of help in leading Orlando to its sixth regular-season defeat of the Lakers in the last nine meetings between the teams. Jameer Nelson scored 17 points and dished nine assists. The Magic shot 12-of-27 from beyond the arc on the night, and Nelson had a hand in 10 of the makes: seven of his nine assists were on baskets outside the arc, while he shot 3-of-4 himself. It was an impressive display for Nelson, coming off a 2-of-16 shooting night in a two-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday. Orlando's three other starters also scored in double figures.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
Los Angeles was playing its second game in as many nights, and certainly looked the part, as its poor shooting attests. I wonder, however, how much of their lax offense is due to fatigue, how much is due to Orlando's defense, and how much is due to its lack of anyone apart from Kobe Bryant who can create offense for himself. Bryant takes a lot of flak from fans and the media for hogging the ball, but I don't know if all of that criticism is fair, given the paucity of creators on his team.
Orlando forced the ball out of Bryant's hands as much as it could, per Van Gundy's gameplan, by double-teaming him on almost all of his touches. As a result, Derek Fisher got 14 shot attempts, while Pau Gasol got just 12. Orlando executed that part of its defense expertly, though Van Gundy accepted some blame for the ease with which the Lakers scored inside at times, as he emphasized double-teaming Bryant, Gasol, and Bynum so much in preparing for this game that he did not adequately address the Lakers' off-ball cuts. On a night when they shot 38.2 percent from the field overall, L.A. shot 15-of-25 (60 percent) from the painted area.
The Magic ballooned their lead to as much as 23 points in the first half, though the Lakers crawled back into the game after halftime as the hosts' energy waned. "We hit that stretch in the third quarter where it was foul, foul foul, and the game just slowed down," Van Gundy said, in explaining how L.A. drew to within 15 after 36 minutes.
Orlando closed the game out in the fourth with a by-committee approach, setting its offense up with its bread-and-butter play: the middle pick-and-roll with Howard and Nelson; Hedo Turkoglu, who usually handles the ball in those situations, missed the game due to back spasms. Nelson responded by making the right reads--for the most part--and setting his teammates up as the Lakers scrambled to contain his penetration. Four Magic players scored five points apiece in the fourth.
The Magic, who have played four games in five nights, will have Saturday and Sunday off before embarking on another four-in-five stretch Monday.