The Los Angeles Lakers continue to struggle in the month of December. The Lakers are averaging 101.7 points this month but have only won one game in 12 tries. Last night in Miami, the purple and gold came out strong in the first quarter outscoring the Miami Heat 25-17, but the next three-quarters they were outscored by a total of 98-82. Los Angeles built a 19 point lead in both Charlotte and Miami, but their youth and lack of defense allowed the games to slip away from them. The Lakers hope that the can finish the road trip with a win.
The Orlando Magic made it a priority to solidify the frontcourt this offseason. Orlando traded away Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka, signed Bismack Biyombo and hired coach Frank Vogel to lead the Magic into the future. The Magic are in the bottom half of the league in points, rebounds and assists per game, but are 13th in the league in opponents points per game.
The Lakers will have a tough time in Orlando coming off back to back. Luke Walton hopes his team can put together a full 48 minutes of team basketball to pick up the win in Orlando.
The starting backcourt for Orlando Magic is DJ Augustin and Evan Fournier. Vogel placed Augustin with the starters in hopes of boosting the offense and improving spacing as Elfrid Payton is a non-factor from the perimeter. Augustin is a veteran and a solid shooter, but can’t be relied upon to take over a game at this stage of his career.
Fournier is someone who can shoot the basketball and can annoy his opponents with his energy on the defensive end. In his last two games, he scored 26 points against the Miami Heat and 21 points against the New York Knicks. Fournier is a player that is primed to kill the Lakers with his type of skillset, especially the way the Lakers have been playing on this road trip.
Even though he is no longer starting, Payton still plays a major role on this team and averages more minutes than Augustin. Even though he is a terrible perimeter shooter he can cause a lot of problems with his penetration and passing and is a lockdown defender to boot.
D’Angelo Russell is starting to look healthier on the court, trying to post up opposing point guards and being more aggressive overall. Russell had 17 points and seven assists against the Miami Heat, but he also turned over the ball six times. The second-year guard has to figure out a way to keep up his aggression without also increasing his turnovers.
Nick Young has done his part during this roughest stretch of the season. During this road trip has averaged 18.8 points on 48.2% shooting. Young has been the player the Lakers players look to when they are behind or squander a lead to make a three-pointer to get momentum back on their side. He was obviously frustrated after the recent losses and noted that the team forgets what got them the lead in the first place.
With all of the injuries to the front court the Lakers will be relying even more on their guards which means Lou Williams and Jordan Clarkson will need to step up. That hasn’t been a problem for Williams who leads the Lakers in scoring at 19.1 points per game and dropped 27 in Miami. Clarkson has been somewhat inconsistent, scoring only four points last night, but is always a threat for a big offensive night.
The Orlando Magic have a crowded frontcourt that consists of Serge Ibaka, Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo, Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green. Right now it is Gordon, Ibaka, and Biyombo who start for Vogel.
Gordon is most effective around the basket thanks to his ridiculous athleticism and never-ending energy. He has attempted to expand his game to the three-point line, but still isn’t much of a threat out there. Ibaka is one of the few reliable shooters on the Magic and actually leads the team percentage-wise while still providing the rim protection he’s known for.
Biyombo was one of the Magic’s big money signings this off-season, but hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. He is a solid rebounder, but his rim protection, while still good, hasn’t changed the Magic’s defensive issues. Vucevic is the opposite of Biyombo as he can score on anyone in the low post, but struggles to protect the rim.
The Lakers frontcourt is still lacking thanks to injuries. Larry Nance Jr. (Knee), Tarik Black (Ankle), and Julius Randle (Personal Reasons) will all miss this game. Luke Walton will likely march out Brandon Ingram and Luol Deng to start once again, though Ibaka with his size could be a difficult matchup. Thomas Robinson was excellent against the Heat with eight points, 12 rebounds, and two assists in only 18 minutes and could get a start if Walton wants a little more size.
Ingram’s influence on the game doesn’t always show up in the box score. Ingram played 34 minutes against the Heat, but only scored four points. The Duke Star has been able to affect games with his rebounding, playmaking and defense so far this season. Ingram will be asked to mix it up with Orlando’s big front line tonight, and he will need to be successful if the Lakers hope to win this evening.
Luol Deng has been playing better as of late averaging 12.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists during the road trip. Deng has been shooting the ball better 50% overall and a respectable 37.9 percent from behind the arc.
With the Magic’s size, it also wouldn’t be surprising to see rookie Ivica Zubac get a few minutes as Biyombo and Vucevic might be too big for Robinson to handle for a long time.
Keys to Victory:
Play All 48 Minutes:
The Lakers have blown 19-point leads in consecutive games, something that seems impossible. Earlier this year the issue was getting out to good starts, but now it’s the opposite. Whatever the case, the Lakers must figure out how to maintain their energy for all four quarters.
Keep the Magic out of the Paint:
The Lakers play better when they play with smaller lineups that allow them to increase the pace and get in the open court, but it leaves the vulnerable on the boards and with inside scoring. The Magic have lots of weapons that like to score in the paint and are one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league. The Lakers need to keep them out of the painted area as much as possible tonight.
Neutralize Shot Blockers:
Orlando is one of the best shot-blocking teams in the league as Biyombo, Ibaka, and Gordon make it very difficult to get clean shots in the paint. The Lakers can’t just settle for outside shots however. They must figure out a way to get good looks both in and out of the paint without getting their shots sent into the stands.
Los Angeles Lakers (11-21) Vs. Orlando Magic (13-18)
4:00 P.M. PST, December 23, 2016
Amway Center, Orlando, Florida
TV: Spectrum Sportsnet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Magic Starting Lineup:
PG: D.J. Augustin
SG: Evan Fournier
SF: Aaron Gordon
PF: Serge Ibaka
C: Bismack Biyombo
Key Reserves: Elfrid Payton, Nikola Vucevic, Jeff Green, Jodie Meeks
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Luol Deng
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams, Thomas Robinson, Ivica Zubac