If you came into this game thinking the Lakers win in Boston was a mirage and they still can’t beat elite teams consistently, you watched this game and felt vindicated. You shouldn’t.
If you believe that the Orlando Magic are elite despite recent losses to the Bulls, Heat and Celtics (and even Hornets), that they were going to start coming together soon, you watched this game and felt vindicated. You’re jumping the gun.
What you should really leave this game thinking: The more desperate team usually will win an NBA regular season game.
The Lakers were feeling pretty good about themselves after a 4-0 start to their Grammy road trip — including a win in Boston — and they came out looking complacent. The Magic were desperate for a big win because of the aforementioned losses — their big man came out inspired. And nobody stops an inspired Howard.
The result was a 89-75 Magic win. A win where, for one game at least, the Magic can point to their defense as good. A game that can give them hope that the spotty defense they have played since the trade is starting to change. The Lakers never scored more than 21 points in a quarter (the first) and had 15 in the fourth. On the other end of the floor, Howard had 31 points on 16 shots and grabbed 13 boards.
The Lakers shot a sad 39.3 percent overall and 12.5 percent from three. That adds up to a 40.5 eFG% on the night, eight percent below their season average.
Was that the Magic’s defense finding itself again? Not necessarily. It was better, their defense looked more energized — more desperate — than it did in recent losses. Even Hedo Turkoglu was playing good help defense, and you don’t see that every day. Or many days.
But the Lakers also just missed shots they knocked down in Boston a few nights before. Shots they normally hit. It was just one of those games for them, and the complacency did little to push them past it.
When the Lakers are flat is when Kobe Bryant tries to take over — and that happened right on schedule late in the first half. For a stretch he put on a show. He was hitting the fade away and the elbow jumper that he can seem to get and hit in his sleep. But he was not getting to the line and shot just 8-of-18 overall.
Those spurts by Kobe often inspire the other Lakers to pick it up, but not this time. The Laker bench shot 30.7 percent. Pau Gasol was 5-of-12. Andrew Bynum had 17 points but needed 15 shots to get it. The Lakers as a team didn’t make the Magic work all that hard for this win. Not like the Magic will have to work come the playoffs.
Meanwhile Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson outplayed the Lakers forwards. Anderson was 3-of-5 from three, Bass 3-of-6 overall, and they both fit into their roles perfectly.
It was a quality win for the Magic, but one game does not a change make. If they cannot carry the momentum of this game forward into other games against good teams (Oklahoma City a week from Friday, for example) it was a one-off.
For the Lakers, they are 4-1 on their seven game, Grammy road trip. They play Charlotte Monday and Cleveland next. Two wins makes it a 6-1 trip and that’s not bad, not bad at all. How the Lakers respond in Charlotte will tell you as much or more about this team than this loss. Do they care enough to bounce back, or are they just that bored with the regular season?