Aiming to win their fifth-consecutive contest (and improve to 5-0 on their current seven-game road trip), the Los Angeles Lakers squared off against the Orlando Magic on Sunday afternoon.
A rematch of the 2009 NBA Finals, which the Lakers captured in five games – the face off featured the NBA’s top-two vote getters, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, for this season’s All Star Game, which will be held in Los Angeles this weekend.
Although posed with the challenge of containing Howard, the NBA’s leader in dunks and reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year, the Lakers countered with one of the most formidable front lines in the league; comprised of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.
It was a battle between big men to begin the opening 12 minutes of play, as Gasol and Bynum accounted for 15 of the Lakers’ first 17 points.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, the Magic used a pair triples to go along with stifling defense, helping them go on a 13-0 run to take a 24-15 lead with 3:16 remaining.
However, the Lakers held the Magic scoreless over the final three minutes of the period, and behind baskets from Bynum, Odom and Kobe Bryant – ended the period trailing by only three, 24-21.
After struggling to find their shot at the end of the first quarter, the Magic came out strong to begin the second period, and behind the energetic play of reserve Earl Clark, they were able to build their lead back up to as much as seven.
The Lakers refused to go down, and while Orlando experienced another three-minute scoring drought, the Lakers – powered by Odom – went on an 8-0 run to retain the lead, 31-30 with just over seven minutes remaining.
A Jason Richardson 3-pointer broke Orlando’s scoreless streak, and tipped the scoreboard in the Magic’s favor.
Bynum tied the score at 33 after Bryant found him for a dunk, which Clark responded with a bucket of his own, and Orlando took back the lead.
Bryant quickly shut any window of opportunity Orlando had at building on its lead, as he proceded to score the Lakers’ next eight points, putting the game at a 41-41 draw.
Nearing the end of the first half, a jumper by Richardson broke the tie, and a score inside from Brandon Bass gave the Magic a 45-41 lead as the two teams headed into the locker room.
Bynum was held to two points and one rebound in the quarter, but finished the half with nine points and seven rebounds; while his opponent, Howard, was held scoreless in the second period, but posted nine points, four rebounds and two blocks in the first 24 minutes of play.
The Lakers and Magic swapped baskets to begin the second half, but two unanswered baskets by Orlando, followed up with a Ryan Anderson 3-pointer and a Howard score inside – helped propel the Magic to nine point lead less than six minutes into the quarter.
Bynum scored down low to cut the Magic’s lead to six, which Howard matched with a basket of his own, putting the score at 58-49 in Orlando’s favor.
The Lakers fought back, and behind triples on either side of a Bynum score down low, the Purple and Gold used an 8-0 run to pull within two, 58-56.
Anderson ended the Lakers’ run with his third trey of the afternoon, giving the Magic a five-point lead with 3:15 remaining in the quarter.
With the Lakers trailing by five, Howard slam dunked a Gilbert Arenas’ miss at the buzzer, giving Orlando a 67-60 advantage heading into the fourth and final period.
The final 12 minutes of play began under the control of big men, as Howard scored the first four points of the period – extending Orlando’s lead to 11; but a basket from Bynum down low and Odom converted on three of four attempts at the charity stripe to bring the Lakers back within six.
Orlando’s Brandon Bass ended the Lakers’ mini-run, and Gilbert Arenas scored on a layup to return the Magic’s lead to double digits. Continuing to gain late-game separation from the defending champs, the Magic increased their lead to 12 after Bass sank a 15-foot jumper, making the score 77-65.
Odom scored his 13th point of the game on a jumper to cut the Lakers’ deficit to 10, however a 7-2 run – capped off by a Howard tip slam following a Jason Richardson miss, allowed the Magic to improve on their biggest lead of the day, taking an 84-69 advantage with 5:37 remaining in the game.
Bryant scored his first points of the period to cut Orlando’s lead to 13, but Howard proved to be too much of a force for the Lakers’ to handle, as he converted a pair of free-throws after being fouled on a second-chance attempt off of an offensive rebound.
The Magic continued to build up on their cushion, leading by as much as 18 with under two minutes remaining and the Lakers fell to Orlando, 89-75.
Behind 31 points and 13 rebounds from Howard (including a perfect 9 for 9 in the second half), the Magic picked up their 35th win, moving them to 35-21 on the season.
The Lakers, who fell to 38-17, were led by Bynum’s 17 points and nine rebounds. Bryant finished with 17 of his own, but struggled with his shot, shooting 8-18 for the game.
The Lakers will continue their road trip tomorrow night, when they travel to Charlotte to take on Gerald Wallace and the Bobcats at 4 p.m. PST.