It’s Not the Finals, But Lakers Pass MidTerms
In a rematch of last season’s NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers played two efficient, well-executed quarters and had enough to defeat the Orlando Magic, 98-92 at Staples Center. The Lakers started crisp and intent to thwart the high-octane offensive game of the Magic. And as Orlando fell content to jack up questionable three-point attempts, the Lakers executed their offense with superior post play. The Lakers defense was pumped as they prevented the Magic from establishing any type of rhythm. Every Magic shot was hotly contested and their errant flings resulted in quick breakouts for Derek Fisher (10 points, 3 steals, 1 assist) and Kobe Bryant (11 points on 4-19, 5 rebounds, 7 assists). Ron Artest (10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists) was matched up with Vince Carter (9 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist) and he abused him early, taking him repeatedly to the hole forcing Vinsanity to the bench with two early fouls. Andrew Bynum, (8 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) also a force early, picked up two cheap fouls sending him to the pine, but Pau Gasol (17 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists) was able to pick up where his younger teammate left off. The Lakers started 13-21 from the field (4-4 from behind the arc) and piled up a 33-25 advantage after one. Displaying more competitive fire than their opponents, the Lakers made the Magic play out of their comfort zone. And although they typically thrive in a chaos-like offense, Orlando appeared bothered by the Lakers reborn defensive intensity.
Matt Barnes, (13 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) perhaps familiar with most of his summer workout opponents, appeared to be the lone Magic player comfortable with attacking the basket and scored easily with swift moves off the baseline. Dwight Howard (24 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocked shots) got untracked as he took advantage of Bynum’s foul trouble, as the Lakers began to cool from the field. Coach Stan Van Gundy continued to burn time-outs pleading with his players for a better defensive effort and they finally took heed. A Howard bank shot from 12-feet out brought the Magic to within 41-35, but Bynum responded back with a bucket off a lob pass down the middle. Shannon Brown’s (22 points, 2 steals) two free throws after challenging Howard on a dunk attempt then pushed the lead back up to ten points. His 3-pointer on the next trip down made it 48-35 and a quick 11 points in 5 minutes of play. Howard continued his groove with his newly found outside bank shot, as the Lakers appeared content to let him shoot away.
The action slowed considerably in the later part of the period as the Lakers began really struggling with their offensive sets. Kobe dominated the offense as his teammates were obliged to stand and watch. His shots weren’t falling but the Magic remained intent to shoot from outside the area code allowing the Lakers a little breathing room as the half came to a close. Finally, a Ryan Anderson 3-pointer drew the Magic to within 50-44, but Artest immediately took Carter back into the post where he promptly picked up his third foul and a 52-44 lead. But another trey by Anderson and next thing you knew, the Magic had closed the gap to 52-47. The Lakers managed only one field goal in the last five minutes of play, giving Orlando life after being outclassed in the first period. The Magic shot 3-12 from outside the arc but were able to stay close behind Howard’s 18 first half points.
Rashard Lewis (18 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist) started the third period with a floating lay-in, and then drained a top-of-the-key three pointer. A Barnes layup then cut the lead to 56-54 as the Lakers offense continued to sputter. A three-pointer by Jameer Nelson (13 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds) gave the Magic their first lead at 57-56. Phil Jackson called time-out as the rejuvenated Magic found themselves with the lead and the momentum. Kobe continued to struggle from the outside as the Lakers went away from their dominant inside play. The Magic were outhustling the Lakers as they began settling for long-distance shots of their own. With the inside paint being dominated by Howard’s play, the outside starting opening up as Lewis’ and Mikael Pietrus’ consecutive treys made it a 20-4 run and a suddenly commanding, 67-58 lead. The Lakers had managed to score only 4 points to this point in the quarter and now found themselves in the midst of a horrible shooting slump that had extended on from the end of the first half.
Lamar Odom’s (9 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists) free throw line jumper and a mini 6-0 run by the Lakers pulled them to within 67-64 with just under a minute to play. And Orlando continued to fire away from deep with reckless abandon. One could only think that the Lakers were very fortunate to be down only 4 points heading to the final period. With any type of average mid-range game, the Magic could easily be up by over 20 points. For the period, the Magic outscored the Lakers 21-12 after holding them to only 19 points in the 2nd quarter. Poor shot selection and a failure to take the ball inside allowed the Magic to gain control of the game.
As if on cue, the Lakers opened the quarter with another barrage of errant three-point attempts. But again, the Magic obliged with meaningless, long distance shots of their own. Odom’s pair of tip-ins tied the game and a Jordan Farmar (11 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist) three-pointer on the break gave the lead back to the Lakers, 71-68. It wasn’t smart basketball, but it was by all accounts, exciting. The defense shored up and execution prevailed as the Lakers began picking the Magic apart. The speed and quickness of the Bench Mob capitalized on Orlando’s lackadaisical passes and built up a 79-68 lead capped by a 15-0 run to start the final stanza. A Howard free throw finally gave the Magic their first point of the quarter after nearly six minutes of play.
With 4:38 left to play, the Magic had trimmed the lead to 83-76, but the damage had been done as the Lakers forced the Magic to play catch-up. A well-placed lob pass from Odom to Gasol for a 3-point play made it 87-78 with 3:24 to play. A beautiful pass from Gasol to a cutting Brown gave the Lakers a 9-point cushion as the Lakers resorted to “Hack-A-Superman” with Howard. Well-executed first and fourth quarters were enough to carry the Lakers to their 32nd win of the season even though Kobe had another difficult night from the field. The Lakers now embark on an extended East Coast swing with their first stop in Cleveland to face Lebron and the Cavs on Thursday night. But in order for them to be successful, they’ll need to put together more than a bookend of good quarters.