After sealing a thrilling double overtime victory against the Chicago Bulls, the first half the Grammy road trip has been disappointing for the Lakers, losing to the lowly New York Knicks, followed by the Milwaukee Bucks. They let a win slip through their fingers on Wednesday, but Los Angeles is back at it again tonight in Orlando to take on the Magic, who have lost ten consecutive games. The Lakers beat the Magic 101-84 at Staples Center back on January 9.
Frontcourt: Nikola Vucevic is the man in the middle for Orlando. The seven-footer is often overlooked as one of the premier big men in the league, despite averaging 19.6 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. He is a skilled low-post player who is also capable of stepping out and knocking down midrange jumpers on offense, but struggles often on the defensive end. Even with his size, opponents shoot 54.9 percent at the rim when he contests the shot (Source: Nylon Calculus). But make no mistake about it – Vucevic is still an offensive force down low that commands the attention of opposing defenses.
Tobias Harris gets the start at the power forward position, although his versatility allows him to play out on the wing as well. Harris is a gifted athlete at 6’9″ who can finish in the paint or from the outside. The 22-year-old is Orlando’s second-leading scorer behind Vucevic with 17.1 per contest while shooting a steady 37.3 percent from deep. On Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs, Harris ripped off a stat line of 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in the loss. What he brings to the table could pose some matchup problems for the Lakers.
Evan Fournier came off the bench the last time these two teams met, but is expected to resume his starting role tonight if Aaron Gordon sits out again with a foot injury. Fournier has provided a solid scoring punch for the Magic this year, averaging 12.3 points in 29.4 minutes. His perimeter shooting ability allows for more proper floor spacing, giving Vucevic additional room to operate down low. With Ryan Kelly – who is playing out of position at small forward – matched up against him, don’t be surprised if Fournier looks to attack him off the dribble whenever an opportunity presents itself.
Backcourt: Leading the way for this young Orlando backcourt is Victor Oladipo, the number two overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. After being a candidate for Rookie of the Year last season, Oladipo has continued to make strides in 2014-15. His scoring has increased each month so far this season, hitting 20.6 points per game for the month of January (16.7 overall). Oladipo’s improved scoring efficiency, combined with his prowess on the defensive end and overall athletic ability has the Magic excited at the type of player this youngster can develop into.
Alongside Oladipo is rookie Elfrid Payton, who runs the point for Orlando. Payton does a little bit of everything for the Magic, tallying 7.8 points, 5.8 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals a night. His game is a bit reminiscent of Rajon Rondo, seeing as he does a little bit of everything and is a horrid shooter. Obviously, Payton isn’t the passer that Rondo is, but he projects some noticeable similarities to the latter’s younger years. Much like Oladipo, Payton gets after it on defense, disrupting the comfort level of opposing ball handlers. If the Lakers are loose with the basketball around him, they could see it going the other way in a hurry.
Keys to Victory:
Control the Glass: In their previous meeting with the Magic, the Lakers absolutely dominated the rebounding battle by a 60-36 margin. A total of 18 offensive rebounds led Los Angeles to 14 more shot attempts than Orlando. Without Jordan Hill in the lineup, replicating that performance will be tough, so Robert Sacre and Tarik Black will need to fill the void left by his absence.
Transition Defense: The Magic are more effective offensively when they are able to play at a higher pace because of the athleticism they possess. The Lakers can limit Orlando’s transition opportunities by taking care of the ball, which will be a challenge with the defensive ability of Oladipo and Payton. If they are forced to run half court sets, Orlando’s offense tends to get stagnant, resulting in lower percentage shots.
Proper Usage of Ryan Kelly: It’s great seeing Kelly get consistent minutes in the starting lineup after overcoming some hamstring issues earlier this season, but he’s being played out of position. Byron Scott has him playing the three although he is best served as a stretch four. When he’s at small forward, Kelly is forced to guard players much quicker than him and really struggles to contain dribble penetration and is usually unable to return the favor on offense. Playing him at the four not only leads to better floor spacing, but it allows him to attack slower defenders off the dribble if they closeout too hard. Continuing to play Kelly at the three diminishes the skill set he offers and hinders his development.
Los Angeles Lakers (13-36) at Orlando Magic (15-37)
4:00 PM PST, February 6, 2015
Amway Center, Orlando, FL
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Magic Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Elfrid Payton
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Evan Fournier
PF: Tobias Harris
C: Nikola Vucevic
Key Reserves: SG: Willie Green, SG: Ben Gordon, PF: Channing Frye
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Wayne Ellington
SF: Ryan Kelly
PF: Tarik Black
C: Robert Sacre
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