The Magic’s newcomers each had their moments in their debut Sunday. One of them even had the ball in their hands in the closing seconds with a chance to send the game to overtime.
But Otto Porter Jr.’s three hit back-rim and the Magic fell, 96-93, to a Lakers team without LeBron James and Anthony Davis in what was an occasionally ugly game but a mostly encouraging performance by the Magic’s young core.
The Magic ran it back with the same starting five from their loss to the Blazers on Friday. Even with three players making their Magic debut, it was Chuma Okeke who was the focus for the third straight game after setting career highs in each of the previous two. Okeke’s hot shooting from the outside continued as he hit a pair of threes in the first quarter.
Porter Jr. was the first newcomer off the bench for the Magic in the first quarter, and he soon connected on a jumper on his first field goal attempt with the team.
R.J. Hampton was next off the bench, while Wendell Carter Jr.’s debut would wait until the second quarter. It was Mo Bamba who got the call at backup center in the first quarter, as he was active at both ends and tallied 2 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in six minutes.
Carter checked in for Bamba with 10:22 left in the second, and was soon fouled on a put-back attempt...
The Magic missed their first nine shots of the second quarter.
That drought came to an end when Hampton, after missing his first three shot attempts, hit a pull-up jumper in transition to cut the Laker lead to 34-26 with 6:38 left.
Another Orlando drought began, with the Magic held scoreless over the next four minutes until Dwayne Bacon scored to make it 39-28.
The Magic, who shot just 26 percent in the second, closed the half on a 13-5 run to pull within 44-39 heading into the break. That stretch was highlighted by Okeke finding his former AAU teammate Carter down low for the lay in plus the foul.
The Magic managed to stick around despite shooting just 31 percent in the half, making only 4 of 16 threes. Okeke led the way with 9 points, Bacon added 8 and Carter had four points and five rebounds in 10 minutes.
Okeke continued to show off his well-rounded game and basketball IQ in the second half, grabbing the offensive rebound in traffic and putting it in to even the score at 46 four minutes into the third during a 10-2 run.
Off a block by Bamba, Okeke converted a three-point play off a give-and-go with Chasson Randle to tie it at 51.
With the Magic losing Michael Carter-Williams to a knee contusion in the first half, Hampton took over at point guard. Raw as he is, the 20-year-old showed he is better at this stage playing off the ball, but he did find Bamba with a pretty no-look pass for the dunk.
Hampton later spun into the paint and hit a leaner plus the foul to give the Magic the lead at 66-65 with 45.5 seconds left in third.
Porter then showed off his range, draining a 28-foot three-pointer just before the buzzer to send the Magic into the fourth tied at 69.
Porter helped put the Magic back in front early in the fourth when he drew the defense in and kicked it out to Bamba, who hit a three to put Orlando up 74-72.
The Magic led by five after Hampton drained a three with 7:19 remaining to make it 82-77 lead, giving the rookie a new career-high with 10 points.
The Lakers then went on 13-3 run as the Magic began to turn the ball over. With the Lakers up two, Harrell missed two free throws but Carter stepped out of bounds while grabbing the loose ball. That second opportunity led to a Kuzma three that pushed the lead to 90-85 with 3:55 left.
Steve Clifford elected to go with a closing lineup of Randle, Bacon, Porter, Okeke and Carter. Carter getting crunch time minutes over Bamba was somewhat of a surprise given that it was his first game with the team and Bamba, outside of some defensive miscues, seemingly played well enough to earn the opportunity down the stretch under the circumstances. But even in Carter’s first game, it was clear he is more polished than Bamba as an interior defender, screener and post presence. How Clifford juggles his two young centers, while also mixing in Khem Birch, is going to be one of the most interesting subplots over the remainder of the Magic season.
Orlando trailed by seven with 1:16 remaining after Randle fouled out (he was replaced by James Ennis).
Following a pair of free throws by Bacon and a missed jumper by Montrezl Harrell, Okeke pushed it down court and found Carter underneath for the dunk to pull the Magic within three with 30 seconds remaining.
After Dennis Schroder missed a layup on the ensuing possession, Harrell grabbed the offensive rebound and passed it out to Morris, who inexplicably launched a three with seven seconds remaining when the Lakers could have ran down the clock while waiting for the foul. Kuzma then grabbed the offensive rebound but stepped out of bounds, giving the Magic a chance to tie it up despite their inability to grab a defensive rebound.
Porter used a screen and a pump fake to get a clean look from deep, but he was unable to connect at the buzzer.
Porter had five points and four rebounds in 25 minutes, connecting on just 1 of 5 attempts from deep. Carter had eight points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes. Hampton has 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting in 17 minutes.
Bacon finished with a career-high 26 points to go along with 8 rebounds. Okeke had 14 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists, while going 3-for-6 from deep. Bamba had 11 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists in 17 minutes.
Not worth reading too much into this game when three players were added to the rotation without much practice, and while Clifford was trying to stagger the rotations to account for the newcomers’ unfamiliarity.
Nevertheless, the curiosity surrounding Okeke’s progression, the Bamba-Carter playing time battle and Hampton’s potential gave this game a sense of purpose from a viewer standpoint that Magic games have been lacking since the Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony injuries. A good day all around for those who are pro-tank
The Magic’s West Coast trip gets more challenging from here, starting with the Clippers on Tuesday.