The Lakers – and LeBron James – might have played their best game of the season when they took on Portland for the third time a couple of days ago, but it was a step backwards in Florida, thanks to a fairly dispiriting 117-130 loss to the Magic. At first, Los Angeles seemed to pick up right where they had left off, thanks to a pair of opening dunks from McGee that got the visitors to 4-0 with only a minute on the clock.
The first quarter just got better for the Lakers too, and in some ways felt more like a fifth quarter to their game against the Blazers than a precursor to their dramatic loss to Orlando. While Evan Fournier and Adam Gordon might have responded to McGee’s four points with a driving floating jump shot and a driving layup respectively, a pair of free throws and then a three point jumper from LeBron indicated he was just as willing to lead the Lakers this week.
Both teams were pretty adept with point scoring over these first twelve minutes, but the Lakers moved at a faster pace, continually expanding the gap just when the Magic seemed to be closing in. Along with LeBron, Brandon Ingram was one of the guiding forces in the second half, clocking up a pair of free throws to ensure that a Ball-assisted two pointer and then a driving layup from the King could start to really get the Lakers a significant lead.
A 22-foot pullup jump shot from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and five consecutive points from Josh Hart – all assisted by Ingram – got the Lakers to a sterling 31-25 by the time the quarter ended, with a final Jonathon Simmons-assisted pullup jump shot from Jonathan Isaac feeling more like a consolation basket than anything else. Yet the Magic would claw their way back over the next twelve minutes, not only levelling the scores but breaking ahead to a 53-62 lead.
It started twenty seconds after the break, as Simmons went from assister to scorer, thanks to a Mo Bamba-assisted two point shot. After Bamba made a dunk of his own and McGee tried to shift the momentum with a free throw, Simmons made it a double, sending through a driving floating jump shot to narrow the scoreline to one point. Three more assists from Simmons – for Terrence Ross, Isaac and Bamba – allowed the Magic to finally get out of the red zone with a 35-39 lead, cementing their shooting guard as the MVP of this second quarter.
The Lakers called a timeout to regroup, but Simmons just resumed his momentum after Los Angeles returned to the court, assisting Ross with a three-point jumper before making a tip shot of his own. Somewhere in there LeBron assisted a Josh Hart pullup jump shot, but it barely registered, and it took a free throw and then a Ball-assisted dunk for the King to start to reassert his presence in the game.
Yet a bad pass from Ball, a turnover from Kuzma, and then an error and miss from LeBron himself undid much of that momentum, allowing D.J. Augustin to put down a three point and three point jumper in such quick succession that it seemed to pre-emptively neutralise a Chandler-LeBron alley oop a minute and a half later. The Lakers had now fallen too far behind to reach the Magic, let alone maintain their opening lead, meaning that the next quarter would prove crucial in their desire to prove themselves worthy of their previous win against Portland.
By the end of the next twelve minutes, however, the Magic would have climbed to an imposing 81-101 lead, leaving the Lakers in the unenviable position of trying to come back from a twenty point deficit – at least – over the final stanza. No surprise, then, that the third quarter started with a fairly solid effort from Orlando, as Augustin, Fournier and Nikola Vucevic immediately offset the threat of an opening LeBron-assisted hook shot from McGee with eight successive points.
Those intensive bursts of point scoring would prove crucial to the Magic’s drive over the remainder of the game, tending to isolate and contain even the most valiant efforts that the Lakers made to respond with a burst of their own. One of these came immediately after, and hinged partly on a LeBron-assisted layup from McGee and an Ingram-assisted two point shot from the King himself. Nevertheless, a hook shot, pullup jump shot and driving layup from Vucevic put the Lakers in their place, while a further hook shot and two point shot from the Orlando center widened the score to 70-89 by the time LeBron tried to get some rhythm going with a step back jumpshot three minutes out from the end.
It was too late, though, at least for this quarter, with Vucevik and Simmons having demonstrated exactly what the Lakers were lacking, even with LeBron on their side –a really dazzling show of consistency under pressure from their key playmakers. While Caldwell-Pope might have ended the third quarter with a pair of free throws, the real closing note was the 8-foot two point shot from Vucevic that came nine seconds before, and which promised a decimating final act for the Orlando faithful.
Like clockwork, the Magic now proceeded to make good on that promise, with Simmons once again stepping into the spotlight to offset an opening Ball-assisted jumper from Hart with a dunk and two free throws. Sure, Stephenson might have responded with a pair of free throws and a pullup jump shot – and there was a nice symmetry in that – but Orlando were on a roll, and actually seemed to be sharing the point scoring around so that each player took home a fair number of buckets.
Next it was Bamba who stepped into the spotlight, making a pair of free throws and then netting a 7-foot hook shot off a Fourier assist, with a Ross 22-foot jumper thrown in there for good measure. Around the middle of the quarter, the Lakers started to rebound, but while they may have put more points on the board they didn’t bring anything spectacular or galvanising enough to the court to compensate for the resurgence of Orlando in the final minutes of the game.
A pair of free throws from Vucevic with four minutes on the clock was the consolidation point, and while Stephenson might have tried to respond – as he did at the start – with a pair of free throws, he was quickly neutralized by another free throw and a two point shot from Vucevic, followed by a pair of free throws from Augustin. The two teams went point for point in the final minute and a half, with Beasley drawing on Stephenson for one of the deftest jump shots of the third and fourth quarters, before Stephenson ended the night with a driving layup of his own.
It was too late, however, and not enough to compensate for a game that had seemed to set the Lakers back a couple of games in their season – perhaps even to the start of their season – despite their sterling effort against Portland a couple of days before. Back to the drawing board, then, as they prepare to take on the Heat, Cavs and Jazz over the next couple of days, while the Magic will surely come to see this as a key moment in the consolidation of their 2018-2019 season.