Orlando Magic Stun Lakers, Defeat Dwight Howard and Los Angeles

After their best game of the season on Friday night against the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers were back in action on Sunday night against the Orlando Magic. The team was looking to crawl above .500 for the second time this season, but that wasn’t the biggest storyline headed into the game. The matchup with the Magic meant it would be the first time in Dwight Howard’s career that he would face Orlando, the team he spent the first eight years of his NBA career.

Howard, who scored 28 points and grabbed 20 rebounds on Friday, was looking to back that up against his former squad on Sunday. L.A. was once again without Steve Nash and Steve Blake, who were both still recovering from injuries. The Magic entered the game with a 5-10 record, and were hoping to get their sixth win against the team that beat them in the NBA Finals back in 2009.

First Quarter

The game began with a turnover from Pau Gasol and four quick points for the Magic, but after that initial mishap it was quite a productive quarter for the Spaniard. He began hitting his outside shots after a few nice assists from Kobe Bryant, and was the main offensive weapon in the first period. Kobe was certainly in facilitator mode early in the first, and he hit Gasol for two early assists.

It was Metta World Peace that scored the first points for the Lakers, however, as he had a breakaway dunk followed by a steal and a fastbreak layup early in the quarter. World Peace, who has continued his surprisingly high productivity this season, was once again a catalyst on both ends of the floor early on for Los Angeles.

The team played reasonably well on offense in the first quarter, but wasn’t particularly strong on the defensive end. They allowed the Magic to get quite a few open looks, and Orlando took advantage. At the end of the first quarter the Lakers held a narrow 27-23 lead.

Second Quarter

At the onset of the second quarter Mike D’Antoni had the team’s bench players on the court with Pau Gasol. After rumors that Gasol might be moved to the bench in the wake of Jamison’s 30-point effort on Friday, it was interesting to see how Gasol did with the rest of the reserves. The experiment worked for a little while as the Lakers managed to push their lead to nine early in the period.

Unfortunately the Lakers weren’t able to keep up their defensive intensity for the duration of the quarter, which allowed the Magic to crawl back into the game as the quarter progressed. Orlando was receiving plenty of open looks and lanes to the basket, and they took advantage. The history of the Lakers struggling against quick point guards in the past is no secret, and Jameer Nelson took advantage of this on Sunday night.

The final play of the quarter didn’t exactly go the way the Lakers had in mind. Kobe attempted to save a ball that was headed out of bounds. The ball eventually ended up in the hands of Arron Afflalo, who buried a three to tie the game 52-52 at halftime. Orlando closed the first half on a 19-10 run to tie the game at the break.

Third Quarter

The Lakers opened the third looking to try and reestablish a lead and some energy against the Magic. Unfortunately they seemed more lethargic to start the second half than they did to end the first. There was no rotation on defense or offense, and just nothing was working for the starters. There was far too much standing around and isolation attempts rather than the up-tempo style that was so successful against the Nuggets on Friday.

Things got worse for the Lakers when Gasol was blocked by Glen Davis. The knee tendinitis that Gasol has been struggling with lately was very evident tonight, as he was unable to get hardly any lift on several dunk attempts throughout the game.

At the end of the quarter the Magic broke out the Hack-A-Dwight strategy, fouling Howard whenever the Lakers got the ball. The strategy paid off for Orlando in the third as Dwight went 1-4 from the FT line in the final two minutes of the quarter. This allowed Orlando to keep the game close despite struggling from the field in the third period. With 12 minutes left in the game the Lakers led the Magic 77-73.

Fourth Quarter

After their most exciting game of the season on Friday night it was another clunker on Sunday at the Staples Center. Through three quarters the Lakers consistently displayed a lack of energy and aggression, and it allowed a very sub-par Orlando team to stay in the game and hang with Los Angeles. The lack of ball movement and rotation from off-ball players on the offensive end was a major problem for L.A., and the Magic took advantage.

Unfortunately the Lakers didn’t look much better on the defensive end, either. Still, despite their lethargic performance the team had a lead going into the final quarter and had a chance to win based purely on their talent level compared to that of the Magic. The Lakers also failed to get much production from their bench. After a game that was arguably the best of his career, Jodie Meeks didn’t get significant run until midway through the fourth. The lack of bench support was something that people began to recognize.

Their lead disappeared halfway through the quarter when Orlando took their first lead of the second half after a pair of missed free throws from Howard. L.A. had been threatening to give the game to Orlando for most of the night, and it seemed that suddenly the Magic were going to try and take advantage of the opportunity.

Orlando broke out the Hack-A-Dwight strategy once more but this time Dwight was a little more productive, making 3-4 in a short stretch of time late in the fourth. Orlando pushed their lead to six with 3:41 left in the fourth, sparking a Mike D’Antoni timeout.

One of the more confusing parts of the game was the lack of Jordan Hill. The team was obviously hurting for energy on the floor, but Hill never made it onto the court despite being one of their high-energy players. Hill’s absence was glaringly conspicuous, as the team seemingly could have benefited from his effort on the boards.

In the end it was the combination of missed free throws from Howard and a complete lack of defense from the Lakers that sealed their fate. The Magic got hot at the end of the game, but so much of that can be credited to the Lakers absolutely porous defense. They played with no sense of urgency or intensity, and in the end it cost them the game.

Orlando ended up running away from the Lakers at Staples Center, once again bringing up questions about the team and their abilities this season. Orlando defeated Dwight Howard and the Lakers at the Staples Center, 113-103.

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