The Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers by the score of 92-80. After facing off against the Miami Heat on Thursday and head coach Mike Brown making the decision to play the starters for Lakers down the stretch despite the game being out of reach, there was a concern Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and others would have little energy playing on a back-to-back. Those fears were realized, as Los Angeles looked gas at times. Nevertheless, the Magic did their job and came away with a victory against the Lakers. Orlando was led by a balanced attack, as five players scored in double figures. Dwight Howard had his 37th career 20-20 game, the fifth of this season, and the second in a row following Wednesday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs. Howard finished with 21 points and 23 rebounds. Jameer Nelson had his best game of the regular season so far, putting up 17 points and nine assists. J.J. Redick contributed with 15 points and six assists. Ryan Anderson had 13 points, eight rebounds, and four steals. Jason Richardson returned to the starting lineup and doing so at the small forward position, filling in for an injured Hedo Turkoglu, chipping in with 12 points and four rebounds. Los Angeles was led by Bryant, as he showed that he had plenty in the tank despite playing for a second straight night. Bryant put up a game-high 30 points on 11-of-22 shooting from the field (including 7-of-7 from the free-throw line), eight assists, and three rebounds.
The Magic won primarily because, outside of Bryant (defended by Jason Richardson, Quentin Richardson, and Von Wafer), there was no one for the Lakers that could hit a shot consistently enough. Tired legs were an issue for Los Angeles, as they front-rimmed a lot of shots. And with Bryant getting double-teamed consistently, many of those shots on the perimeter were open looks. That being said, it’s curious that Brown didn’t elect to give Gasol or Bynum more touches in the post. Even though Orlando led the way practically from start to finish, there were times when their lead was threatened when Gasol and Bynum consistently got touches. Good things usually happened for the Lakers when Gasol and Bynum got the basketball, yet they didn’t get it enough. Even more puzzling is the fact that Derek Fisher finished the game with 14 shot attempts in roughly 33 minutes of playing time. Despite playing more minutes, Gasol got 12 shot attempts. And again, even though he was in foul trouble for most of the game, Bynum only got six shot attempts. Yes, Los Angeles’ offense is transitioning away from the Triangle Offense and with no practice time, they’re learning a new system on the fly. But it seems rather incredulous that Gasol and Bynum didn’t get the ball more against the Magic. Especially Gasol, given that he had a matchup advantage against Anderson.
On the flipside, Howard was dominant (though not entirely). Howard got Bynum in early foul trouble in the first quarter, something that carried over until the fourth quarter, and as a result, he had little trouble scoring when matched up against Gasol and Josh McRoberts. Orlando ran a steady dose of 4-out/1-in offensive sets throughout the game and Howard did a great job, generally speaking, of either setting up his teammates for catch-and-shoot opportunities on the perimeter or scoring for himself.
Howard’s biggest problem is that he isn’t playing with the type of energy and effort defensively that Magic fans have grown accustomed to seeing. Part of it is because Howard undoubtedly knows the importance of him staying on the court and not getting into foul trouble. However, that doesn’t excuse the many times that he’s watching instead of reacting on defense. This isn’t to suggest that Howard has checked out or anything. Instead, it’s more a suggestion that he’s not maxing out defensively like he normally does. In a way, Howard winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in three consecutive seasons hurts him in some ways because people are so used to seeing greatness from him consistently on defense. And when Howard isn’t being great defensively on a nightly basis, as has been the case this season, it’s fairly easy to notice.
In any case, Howard’s stat-line is nothing to sneeze at. Howard played a great game but he could have performed even better.
And lastly, it must have been nice for Nelson to have a bounce-back game against the Lakers after a dreadful performance against the Spurs. Nelson did well for himself, executing pick-and-rolls with aggression and doing a good job of blending a scoring and playmaking mentality together. With Turkoglu sidelined, Nelson had to be more of a playmaker than he needs to be and he, alongside Redick, were able to fulfill that responsibility for the Magic.
Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.