This time Lakers’ can’t climb out of hole, Magic execute down stretch to win

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — For a few games now, the Lakers have been winning the way LeBron James teams have won for years: They may not execute on one end for long stretches of the game (Los Angeles played some terrible defense in the second and much of the third quarter) but when it gets to crunch time LeBron and company take over and that’s enough.

The Lakers were down 12 early in the fourth to Orlando Sunday afternoon and still trailed by 10 with 6:30 to go, but then the comeback came: A LeBron three, a JaVale McGee hook shot, a couple of LeBron dunks, then a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope three, all while the Lakers played a more physical and aggressive defense, and it was a tied game, 104-104. The Lakers had the momentum…

And then they didn’t.

LeBron missed a three and the Lakers stopped getting shots at the rim, while the Magic got their final buckets — a Terrence Ross layup and an Aaron Gordon dunk — inside the restricted area.

“We didn’t have the focus and energy at the end of the game,” Laker forward Brandon Ingram said. “I think we had too many bad cuts and our individual defense wasn’t as good. We have to do a better job of just staying in front of our guys.”

“We got stops down the stretch,” Gordon said. “We got stops and we rebounded.”

Orlando swept the season series with Los Angeles with this win. Magic coach Steve Clifford credited the guy who was Orlando’s best weapon on the night, Nikola Vucevic (31 points and 15 rebounds). On Ross’s shot, Gordon served the same purpose pulling Tyson Chandler out 18 feet from the rim to defend.

“That’s the advantage of having Vuc out there,” Clifford said. “Normally, if you don’t have a range shooting center, they’re going to have somebody in the paint there. He’s so involved, especially at that point in the game, there’s a lot of room to drive the ball.”

Laker coach Luke Walton focused less on the end of game flaws than on the hole they had dug earlier in the game.

“We spent the third [quarter] trying to find different groups that would bring that energy we needed to compete in an NBA game,” Walton said. “And eventually we got ourselves back out there doing it and got ourselves back in it. I’m happy with that effort, but just not a long enough stretch of good basketball tonight.”