The second night of a Californian back-to-back – particularly one coming at the end of an 11-day, 5-game road trip – always had the potential to get ugly. After a tight first half it seemed like things were indeed going that way, with a discombobulated and dire third quarter ultimately dooming Orlando. Although the young Magic did eventually get some of it back, the end result was a 106-94 loss that sends the team to 5-23 on the season.
The Lakers made the faster start, going up 9-3 through the game’s opening minutes courtesy of a transition game fueled by Magic turnovers. LeBron James and Talen Horton-Tucker were the primary damage dealers, although it was sloppy execution by Orlando rather than pinpoint pressure that created the chances.
The Magic settled things down somewhat after an early timeout, improving their ball security and general execution and benefiting on the scoreboard as a result. Cole Anthony and Gary Harris both drilled open looks from deep, while Franz Wagner was able to convert a beautiful bank shot on a swooping drive that started at the arc. A discombobulated Lakers side also contributed to the run, as they coughed up three turnovers and missed five of six shots during a 14-2 Magic run.
Triples to Terrence Ross and RJ Hampton kept things ticking over once the reserves entered the game, while Robin Lopez provided the type of veteran contributions that the team expects of him when he enters the game. His activity on the offensive glass extended possessions and generated chances for teammates spotting up on the perimeter, while his defense – including a highlight block of Dwight Howard – effectively anchored the side through the quarter’s final minutes. As a result, the Magic went to the first break with a seven-point advantage, up 25-18 and playing with energy even at the end of a long road trip.
When it comes to LeBron one knows a response is inevitably coming, and for the Magic they felt the Lakers push across the opening minutes of the second. He spearheaded a 14-6 Los Angeles burst, with transition playmaking, a typical bullying three-point play, and a monstrous swat from behind of RJ Hampton. To Orlando’s credit they steadied after regrouping during a time out, leaning on the Anthony and Wendell Carter Jr. two-man game to nudge their way back in front, 36-35.
Physicality and foul-drawing threatened to derail Orlando’s momentum, with the Lakers slowly doing a better job of both getting into the paint and to the line. However, some sweet shooting from outside in the close helped the Magic maintain their slim advantage, with Ross and Anthony both chipping in makes and Ross even drawing a foul on one deep look. When the two teams went to the locker rooms at the half it was 52-49, Orlando’s way.
The Magic were led at the main break by Anthony and Ross, the pair combining for 23 first-half points and 5 triples. Wagner (7, 4 and 4) and WCJ (7, 4 and 3) were both working on well-rounded contributions, while the team’s collective 6 offensive rebounds and 4 blocks spoke to the consistent work of the big-man rotation. 10 turnovers, whoever, spoke to the side’s carelessness with the ball in hand (particularly early), and would need to be addressed in the second because of it’s propensity to fuel LA’s downhill game.
As they did in the second the Lakers opened the third on an early roll, claiming back the ascendancy with a 14-4 run. As is usually the case it was LeBron at the controls, with a pair of long bombs to open the period eventually giving way to the power of his inside game. When he threw down a fastbreak hammer the deficit had reached double figures, the Magic suddenly slipping away as they found themselves down 66-56 in a game they once had a firm grasp on.
For the Magic it was a simple equation: they needed to protect the ball and start finding the bottom of the net. Unfortunately they couldn’t find the necessary rhythm, going 1-8 from the field with 5 turnovers across the first six minutes of the second-half. Their poor offensive play incurred the double whammy of fueling the opposition, with transition baskets man-advantages helping the Lakers construct a 17-0 run that blew the contest wide open.
It was an absolutely brutal stretch of impotency for the Magic. After WCJ got a bucket to go at the 10:55 mark of the third, the team didn’t register a single point until Ross got a pair of free throws with 2:43 remaining. Even those were of the mercy variety, with the Lakers taking an intentional foul to get LeBron out of the game – he was gassed after racking up a veritable boat-load of Globetrotter-esque highlights. All told it was a 26 point shellacking in the period, Orlando shooting 2-22 as the Lakers outscored the Magic 36 to 10 and built an insurmountable 85-62 lead entering the final frame.
The Magic were able to get some of it back in the fourth, but it was largely the result of the game having lost its sting. When Wagner followed a Carter Jr. triple with an uncontested stuff the margin was down to 14, but even then it didn’t feel like the result was really in question. Orlando kept the pressure on by junking things up with a zone look, but LeBron drilled a huge triple on the next trip to snap what was a late 18-5 run by the Magic and re-establish a 15 point advantage. Another push created a short 5-0 burst that was punctuated by a Gary Harris corner three, cutting the lead to a one-time unimaginable 10. Unfortunately, however, that is where it would hover for the remainder of the game, the Lakers expending just enough energy to keep the door closed and consign the Magic to a 106-94 loss.
Orlando’s three stars
Hockey is a pretty great sport, so I thought I would steal one of its best little touches for my own game analysis: the three stars. Here is who caught my eye tonight.
First star: Wendell Carter Jr.’s goggle — took a pounding but kept coming back for more, even after being turned into a meme by LeBron James. Probably speaks to the ferocity of the second-half beatdown that the main takeaway from the game was an accessory.
Second star: Wendell Carter Jr. — although he took a backseat to his eyewear, the Magic’s big man was again incredibly steady. 16 points on 6-12 shooting (including 2 makes from deep) to go along with 8 rebounds, 3 assists and a block speaks to the general reliability of his contributions.
Third star: Cole Anthony — tried hard, even when nothing was working for Orlando. A hot first half propelled him to a final tally of 21 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, although his 6-18 shooting was emblematic of the side’s collective struggles.
The Magic now return home for a Wednesday night date with the Hawks, where they’ll look to re-establish some winning ways.