For the second time in eight days, the Los Angeles Lakers had a winning streak snapped by the Orlando Magic. Sunday’s 108-104 home loss to the Magic was disappointing, but head coach Luke Walton’s team did make a big comeback effort in the fourth quarter.
Trailing by 15 points to start the fourth, a small-ball lineup featuring Kyle Kuzma at center along with Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Svi Mykhailiuk, cut the deficit to six points. Their play was also a big reason Lonzo Ball never saw the floor in the fourth quarter.
“They did a really nice job. I was trying to get ‘Zo back in the game,” Walton said following the loss. “I thought ‘Zo was playing a very solid game, but that group created some energy and KCP was flying around. I know he wasn’t making a lot of shots but he had just hit a big three and defensively he was flying around, fighting over screens, coming up with loose balls.
“They did a really nice job of playing the type of defense we need to play in the fourth quarter to win games. We just dug a little bit too big of a hole for ourselves.”
As Walton noted, Ball didn’t play a bad game by any means, finishing with 9 points and 10 rebounds, but with the lineup outscoring Orlando 15-6 to start the quarter, it was hard to make a change. This of course isn’t the first time that has happened to Ball this year
When it was time for a change, Walton felt it was more important to get size on the floor to combat Nikola Vucevic. “We were going to stay small as long as Vucevic was not on the floor,” he explained.
“We tried to go small in Orlando and he killed us. He was punishing us again tonight, so we were going to stay small as long as he was on the bench.”
With Caldwell-Pope setting the tone defensively, Walton decided to go with him down the stretch over Ball. It’s a difficult decision to make in the heat of the moment, but that is Walton’s job.
Most important is that Lonzo continues his strong play of late. He is averaging 11 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists over the last three games while shooting 50 percent from the field and being far more aggressive overall. As long as he keeps that up, it’s unlikely Ball will be spending many more fourth quarters on the bench.