Lakers 75, Magic 89

After winning back-to-back games against the Celtics and Knicks, and after winning the first four games of their annual Grammy’s Road Trip, the Lakers faced a stiff test at Orlando on Sunday afternoon. The Magic have a dominant big man that has the ability to give the Lakers front court fits, as well as the perimeter shooting to send the Lakers away in a bad mood. Before the game started, I tweeted that the Lakers’ keys to victory were:

  1. Make Dwight Howard earn his points and rebounds
  2. Defend the deep ball
  3. Play team basketball

After 48 minutes of action, the Lakers failed to accomplish any of those goals, and left Amway Center a 75-89 loser. Here are some observations that I made from the day’s game…

Bynum is Close, but Howard is Already There

For stretches of time, Andrew Bynum stood toe-to-toe with Dwight Howard, and it looked as though the two were equals. In the first quarter, Bynum arguably outplayed Howard; both centers scored 9 points, but Bynum out-rebounded Howard 6 to 5, and five of Bynum’s six rebounds came on the offensive end. On offense, Bynum showed some impressive moves that made Howard look slow, something that no other big man in this league has done before. And on defense, Bynum challenged most of Howard’s shots, and even blocked a jump hook attempt midway through the second. Both guys played at a very high level this afternoon, but in the end, Howard proved that he rules supreme.

Despite Bynum’s best efforts, and despite the length of Gasol and Odom, Howard turned in a dominant performance against the Lakers. Dwight ended the day with 31 points on 13-of-16 shooting, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks. The one knock on Howard’s day was his 6 turnovers. Other than that, he was able to get most of his shots off with ease. He used his quickness to get around Bynum and Pau and his strength to establish deep position early in the shot clock. Howard only made it to the free throw line 6 times, so it was clear that the Lakers did not rough him up enough. On the whole, it was nice to see Bynum hang with Howard, but it was also a big reminder that the best big man in the game resides in Orlando.

Perimeter Play

The Magic outplayed the Lakers on the perimeter, and with all of the length inside canceling one another out, the perimeter play was the difference in the game. The Lakers have struggled all season with defending the three-point shot, and the Magic entered today as the leading team in three-point shots attempted per game at twenty-five. Today, the Magic outscored the Lakers 21 to 6 beyond the arc; the deep ball kept the Magic in the game despite them turning the ball over a lot more.

The Lakers just couldn’t get anything going all game. They ended the day 33-of-84 (39.3%) compared to the Magic’s 37-of-76 (48.7%). It’s tough to win when your opponent shoots nearly 10% better than you do.

Balance

On both sides of the ball, the Lakers needed a balanced effort from their entire roster to beat the Magic, and they didn’t get that. On offense, the Lakers’ big four–Kobe, Bynum, Pau, and Odom–didn’t get much help in the first half (they had about 95% of the team’s points through two quarters). Fisher and Artest were both scoreless in the first half, Walton and Blake didn’t score at all in a combined 37 minutes, and Shannon Brown struggled mightily. Meanwhile, each of the Magic’s nine players scored at least four points, and eight of those nine had at least six points apiece.

Conclusion

About halfway through the fourth quarter, it was clear that the Lakers were not going to win the game. Phil Jackson pulled Kobe and Bynum and let Walton, Caracter, and Ebanks get some minutes. The Lakers will play on short rest tomorrow night in Charlotte against a team that certainly has the ability to pull of an upset and send the Lakers to a two-game skid. I expect Los Angeles to be ready to play and get back to their winning road ways.

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