Game Notes: Lakers at Magic
Orlando earns a much-needed home win.
by Nada Taha
Maybe the Magic were sick of saying the words “effort” and “intensity.” Usually preceded by the phrase “need more.”
Maybe they were tired of playing like they were competing for Girl Scout cookies instead of the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Or maybe they just got excited that Khloe Kardashian was rumored to be in the arena watching.
Whatever it was. It worked.
They didn’t just play Sunday’s game against the Lakers. They dominated. They reminded themselves what it’s like to play like a championship contender and not like a team out of Ohio (OK, that was a low blow). They held the Lakers to their lowest point total of the season and kept the Black Mamba from ever touching the stripe (that hasn’t happened since March 24, 2010 against the Spurs).
Orlando needed this 89-75 win over Los Angeles. They needed to know they still had the juice to finish out the season and possibly make a run for a championship—because they sure as hell weren’t playing like it as of late.
They were reminded of a few things Sunday:
1. Yes, they could beat a contending team despite their eight straight previous losses to teams with over .500 records like Boston, Miami and Chicago.
2. They missed Brandon Bass more than they may have realized. The guy played 29 minutes, scored 6 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and topped off his first night back after sitting out two weeks with an ankle injury with a pretty explosive dunk.
3. Superman may play a damn-near perfect game but he does still bleed. Dwight Howard made that basket his you-know-what, scoring at will, slamming put-back dunks, hitting bank shots with both hands and finishing the night with 31 and 13. He did, however, walk off the court after being elbowed in the face by Lamar Odom late in the fourth. Of course he had already done so much damage that his services weren’t really needed anymore.
4. Turkish people have a history of taming snakes. That may have been made up, but Hedo Turkoglu definitely helped my argument. Between him and Jason Richardson, Kobe Bryant was held to just 17 points on 8-of-18 from the field. Even Kobe, who felt like he didn’t facilitate or play aggressive enough, said he thought their defense was on point.
They also learned some things. Like the word “consistency.”
They know now what it takes for them to be on the winning side of the fence, but can they keep producing it?
“I just personally think that we have to be consistent in whatever we do. The way we played tonight is the way we have to play if you want to be considered a great team,” Dwight said. “If we continue to do that then there’s no doubt in my mind we have what it takes to win a championship.”
It was a total team effort for the Magic. It was a matter of righting all they were doing wrong in the past eight games. They took care of the ball. They played defense for the entire game and they didn’t start off by digging themselves into a hole they had to climb out of later.
Jason Richardson and Dwight were the only two Magic players in double digits, but every one that stepped onto the court contributed.
“We played throughout the game. There wasn’t really a bad stretch for us today and that’s what it’s going to take against quality teams,” Van Gundy said. “We were start to finish today. We played much harder and much better. I think that shows us at least who we can be.”
What they did more than anything was learn from their mistakes.
After he was practically disregarded down the stretch in Friday’s loss to New Orleans, Van Gundy made sure Dwight was involved in every possession one way or another.
Ironically, it seemed that the Lakers, who have taken on four teams with winning records on the road and won, were the ones making excuses.
Whether it was taking the day off, playing on Sundays or the “depth of the arena” as Lakers Coach Phil Jackson so eloquently put it, they needed a reason for the loss.
“We didn’t play defense. We let Howard get loose, we let their jump shooters get shots, we were contesting late, not coming back and doubling, weren’t talking. And as a result, they got buckets,” Shannon Brown said.
They shot 39 percent for the game, 7-for-15 from the foul line and only 12.5 percent from 3-point range.
They continue their “Get-Out-Of-The-Staples-Center-Because-We-Need-It-For-The-Grammys” road trip in Charlotte and then Cleveland.
Of course for both teams, the loss or the win is just one game on their calendars, but it could be a turning point for the Magic heading into the All-Star break.
“We’ve got to play like this every night against the top teams, and we did a great job,” J-Rich said. “I think today was one of those things where guys were like ‘enough is enough.’”