Zero out of ten, would not recommend spotting the team with the best record in the NBA a twenty-point lead sixteen minutes into a game.
But that’s exactly what the Magic did Wednesday night, falling behind big against the Los Angeles Lakers before clawing their way all the way back. In similar fashion to the way their game went against the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night, Orlando dug themselves into a gaping hole early, but then played even with an elite team the rest of the way.
Orlando outscored Los Angeles in the second through fourth quarters, but still dropped their thirteenth game of the season (96-87).
“I just told the guys, it’s as if we never had a shoot-around this morning (like we never talked about the Lakers),” Steve Clifford told reporters during his post-game conference. “You can’t turn the ball over, you have to be physical on the glass. You’ve got to make good rebounding decisions (at the offensive end). We did none of those three things and it took us like ten (or eleven) minutes to get locked-in. After that, we played fine.”
The Lakers were led by LeBron James, who recorded his sixth triple-double of the season. James finished the game with 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. Anthony Davis added 16 points (6-20 FGA’s) and 12 rebounds.
Both clubs began the game cold from the field, combining to miss 19 of the first 22 attempts from the field. Neither team made a three-point field goal until Alex Caruso knocked one down with just under three minutes remaining in the first quarter.
It was especially ugly for the Magic, who quickly fell behind by double-digits. The ball wasn’t moving, guys weren’t creating much of anything off the dribble, and the ball just wasn’t going in the hoop for the home team (Orlando shot 4-21, 19% in first quarter).
It was also apparent as soon as the contest started Wednesday that the Lakers had a significant size advantage over the Magic at almost every position on the floor. Los Angeles grabbed seven offensive rebounds in the game’s opening period, which led to 12 second chance points for the top team in the Western Conference.
It took less than 16 total minutes into the game before the Lakers built up a 20-point lead over the hapless Magic.
Similar to Monday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Magic steadied themselves in the second quarter following their poor start to the game. Second-year center Mohamed Bamba scored 11 of his 13 points in the period to give Orlando a huge lift. Bamba made five of his six field goal attempts in the quarter.
Orlando’s turnaround was also sparked by their defensive effort. The Magic forced Los Angeles into nine second quarter turnovers (which they converted into nine fast-break points). The Magic cut the Lakers’ lead back to single digits before consecutive corner three-point field goals by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on back-to-back Los Angeles offensive possessions.
Orlando drew even closer after back-to-back three’s from Evan Fournier to begin the second half. Lakers’ Coach Frank Vogel was forced to call timeout four minutes into the third quarter after Fournier found Khem Birch in the paint for an uncontested dunk that cut Los Angeles’ lead to a single possession. The Magic began the second half on a 17-6 run.
After a Michael Carter-Williams three-point field goal tied the game at 71-71, the Lakers went on an 8-0 run behind back-to-back three-point field goals on consecutive possessions (from Caruso and Jared Dudley).
The Amway Center fans were provided with some fireworks with 7:06 remaining in the game when Dwight Howard was fouled by Bamba after pulling down an offensive rebound in the paint. Orlando’s former franchise cornerstone took exception to the foul by Bamba and gave him a shove after the play was over. A minor melee ensued, resulting in Dudley and Wes Iwundu getting ejected (Carter-Williams and Howard were also issued technical fouls).
After the Magic narrowed the Lakers’ lead to just five points, Caldwell-Pope buried another dagger from the corner (15 points in the game, 4-7 3PTA’s), followed by a three-point field goal from James that put the game away for good.
“We’ve got to play with discipline,” Clifford added after the game. “We have to know who we’re playing against (and take their strengths away), that’s our chance. That to me (the way the team started) is not understanding who you’re playing against or what our team has to do to play well.”
Orlando was led by Jonathan Isaac, who scored 19 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. Fournier chipped-in 18 points (7-17 FGA’s).
The Magic were playing without starting point guard Markelle Fultz, who missed the game due to illness.
Things don’t get any easier for the Magic, who play James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and the Houston Rockets at the Amway Center Friday night.