The Lakers needed a win, badly.
It wasn’t easy at first, but Los Angeles was able to put together a strong second half en route to a 116-105 win over the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center Friday night.
Losers of four of their last five games, the Lakers outscored the Magic 62-43 in the second half.
“That’s what it was,” Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley told reporters after the game when asked about his team’s intensity waning to begin the second half Friday. “I think they came out with a level of intensity to try and push (the lead) back up. Same thing happened last time when we were there in Los Angeles. Our guys, coming out of the half understanding, we’ve got to turn our level of intensity up.”
Magic rookies Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs were challenged from the opening tip, drawing the defensive assignments of trying to slow down future Hall of Fame superstars LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.
Orlando started the game a little slow, missing six of their first seven perimeter shots. Things quickly became a bit more organized when Wendell Carter Jr., who returned Friday after missing the last seven consecutive games, entered the contest midway through the first quarter.
Suggs was particularly energized early in this contest, leading the Magic with 9 of his career-high 22 points in the game’s opening period.
Orlando Magic legend Hedo Turkoglu was introduced to the crowd during a stoppage in play, as he sat courtside to watch his former team take on the Lakers. And even more surprisingly, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal was introduced to the Amway crowd moments later, as he too was sitting courtside to watch his two former teams square off.
An exciting second quarter saw both teams get up and down the floor at a rapid pace, combining to score 65 points in the period.
In addition to Carter Jr., the Magic also got a nice lift off the bench from Chuma Okeke, who knocked-down three three-point field goals in the first half. Orlando’s bench became a bit thinner as the game wore on as wing Terrence Ross exited the game with knee tendinitis. Ross, who also left Orlando’s previous game in Philadelphia early, did not return to the contest in the second half.
“It had some affect on the game,” Mosley said when asked about Ross leaving the contest early. “We were recognizing how they were playing him. He created some opening for Wendell, rolls to the rim as they blitzed him. His recognition on some of the passes. Again, he’s going to be day-to-day and get evaluated here after the game.”
Suggs was involved in a scary moment late in the first half, taking a terrible fall after driving to lane and getting fouled in midair by Lakers forward Talen Horton-Tucker. Horton-Tucker was charged with a flagrant-one foul, but that didn’t slow down Suggs (who stayed in the game).
“I’ve taken more hits in basketball than I have in football, I promise,” Suggs jokingly told reporters after the game. “No, I’m okay. It’s part of being aggressive.”
Moments later, the former fifth-overall pick provided the highlight of the first half, drawing back to his high school football days at quarterback in Minnesota. After grabbing a defensive rebound, Suggs threw an overhand pass the length of the floor to a wide-open Carter Jr., hitting the big man in stride for an uncontested dunk.
After trailing at the half, Los Angeles opened the second half on a 19-2 run to reclaim the lead early in the third quarter.
The Magic really struggled in the third quarter to run effective offensive sets. Effort to stay connected with the Lakers was there, but shots just weren’t falling for an eight-man rotation that became a seven-man with Ross shelved.
“We talk about it all year,” Suggs said after the game. “Coming out with intensity in the third quarter, being better in the third quarter, that’s been apparent. We’re not able to come back out and ease our way back into it. Especially when we’re up on a team and play a great first half, and knowing they’re going to come out and be aggressive (and ready to make a run).”
Three consecutive field goals by Carmelo Anthony put Los Angeles up by double-digits. Orlando shot a chilling 5 for 18 (28 percent) from the field in the third, as they were outscored 31-16 by Los Angeles.
“We have to find within the players - I don’t think it’s a coaching thing at all - within the players that these great teams, they play well in the third (quarter),” Carter Jr. told reporters after the game. “They set the tone for the rest of the game in the third. That’s something I think we need to do a better job of, dictate what we can control. That’s getting stops on defense. Even if we’re not making shots, defensive rebounding is something we have to stay consistent with.”
Carter Jr. finished with 19 points in 19 minutes (+18). Orlando’s starting center was on a minutes restriction as he works his way back from injury.
“I knew I had the minutes restriction going into the game,” Carter Jr. said when asked about his health after the contest. “I just tried to make an immediate impact. I didn’t play around with the game. I tried to establish my identity in the game for myself and to help my team (try to) get over the hump.”
Orlando was unable to cut into Los Angeles’ lead in the fourth quarter, failing to hold the Lakers under 30+ points for the third consecutive quarter.
Anthony ran off 18 of his 23 points in the second half.
The Magic starting backcourt of Suggs and Cole Anthony shot a dreadful 8 for 25 (1 for 11 from beyond the arc) combined from the floor.
It was an eventful night for Magic fans inside the Amway Center Friday. Shaq was back, so was Dwight. Hedo was in the house, as was Frank Vogel.
But the Magic just didn’t have enough. There will be another reunion of sorts Sunday, as former Magic All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and the Chicago Bulls return to Orlando for the second time this season.
Jalen Suggs tonight:— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) January 22, 2022
*22 PTS & 9 AST were both career highs pic.twitter.com/2zHKpWnG9Y