While there was plenty of attention given to adjustments the Los Angeles Lakers would need to make during the weeks they are without Rajon Rondo, their loss to the Orlando Magic on Saturday can be traced to defense.
The Lakers entered playing having won six of their last seven and four in a row. They held opponents to 104.7 points per game during the winning streak. Orlando struggled out of the game but then caught fire in the second quarter.
They shot 57.7 percent in the period and went 5-for-9 from deep after making just one 3-pointer in the first quarter. The Magic turned a six-point deficit into a nine-point lead which later swelled to 21 in the third quarter.
Following the loss, Lakers head coach Luke Walton expressed happiness with his team’s start before admitting they faded defensively, as seen on Spectrum SportsNet:
“I thought we came out ready to play tonight. I really liked our first quarter, our intensity, our focus. And then for some reason, I don’t know why yet, our defense, it felt like just failed us. We’ve been getting a lot better defensively and we played a good first quarter defensively. Maybe a different rotation or we just weren’t comfortable with the new guys. I don’t know what the reason was. But we never recovered from that. We didn’t really give ourselves a chance. You play on the road in this league, you got to be able to get stops if you want to win, and we didn’t do that.”
The Magic, who now have won six of eight after starting the season 2-6, made just one more 3-pointer (11) than the Lakers. However, Orlando also shot a better percentage from the field, had 19 points off turnovers to 14 for the Lakers, and held a slight edge in points in the paint.
Protecting the basket was particularly problematic for the Lakers in the third quarter, as D.J. Augustin got one layup after another off a pick and roll set.
The Lakers’ bench unit twice cut the deficit to 10 points late in the fourth quarter but the Magic, specifically Nikola Vucevic, had an answer each time to fend off a comeback attempt. He finished with game-high 36 points on 15-for-23 shooting.