The Lakers must’ve forgotten what happened the last time they were in Orlando. They forgot that in their last visit with Dwight Howard and company, they played like the better team, the more experienced group of players, the ones who wanted the championship the most. They forgot what helped them win last year — that collective effort on both sides of the court, a fearlessness to stand up to the defensive player of the year, and the intelligence and heart to know what the outcome of the game would be before tip-off.
Those were Lakers that have shown up this season every so often, but not often enough to let even themselves believe they could hoist that Larry O’Brien trophy again, not if they continue to play like this.
The Magic remembered. They remembered how they got blown out in the first game of the Finals at Staples center by 25 points. They remembered the Lakers celebrating the championship on their homecourt.
The Magic remembered… but the Lakers have forgotten.
A win against Orlando might’ve been a small bite-size of redemption from the first two losses on this road trip. Despite the unbelievable number of fouls called on both Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard, it appeared to be anyone’s game in the first half with both the Lakers and the Magic shooting under 40% from the field.
The Lakers had only four turnovers to the Magic’s eight, in the first half, a welcome stat considering the Lakers’ horrible turnover tendencies in the last few games.
Kobe Bryant also seemed to have found his shooting touch.
The third quarter for Kobe, however, was a different story. Matt Barnes and Mikael Pietrus did a good job smothering Kobe, who didn’t hit one field goal in the entire quarter. Battling with Barnes, who did everything to invite a technical yet was ignored by the officials, Kobe was obviously frustrated. The challenge from his defender is usually the best type of fuel for Kobe, but he didn’t do enough to make Barnes pay.
Fouls were a dime a dozen in today’s game, with Andrew, Pau, Lamar, and Dwight all reaching their fifth.
Though blaming the officials is never the best way to analyze a game’s outcome, today it was no question for both teams. Bynum and Howard, both large bodies, were often scrutinized for just being a presence by the basket. In one play, Kobe went for a shot by the hoop and jumped alongside Dwight who didn’t so much as even touch his uniform, and was called for a foul. On the other side, Andrew jumped straight up, Vince Carter slammed his body sideways into him — foul.
The game changed with both big men on the bench due to foul trouble and it’s a wonder what would have happened if they were able to play.
The Lakers got to within two points in the last few minutes and with a steal, Kobe could have driven the ball inside, gotten fouled or at least could have evened it out. But he chose to attempt a three in transition; missed and failed to guard Matt Barnes on the other end who hit his three. Magic by five.
Kobe did hit another three, followed by a two to make it 94-95, but Vince Carter’s 1-2 freethrows did it for the win. There would be no last second heroics from Derek Fisher today, just a lot of time for the Lakers to think about what they’re doing this season. So far they’ve often been out rebounded, outsmarted, and outplayed.
It’s not just the three losses in a row. It’s not just the losing in general. It is the way these Lakers are playing that is bewildering and disappointing. Even the way they were winning games when the opponent clearly played better was troubling.
Yes, good teams find a way to win even when they’re not playing their best. But maybe it would serve the Lakers better if they just played their best more often, rather than just getting by and then waiting until the second half (or the last second) to show up.
Pre-game Thoughts: On the verge of 3 losses in a row for the first time since Pau Gasol arrived.
Half-time Thoughts: Lakers shooting just 34% with Orlando; not as bad but still only shooting 39%. This is anyone’s game.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Can’t pick just one amongst the collection of defending champions wearing a purple uniform, so this honor goes to the officials who were watching, or clearly NOT WATCHING, Matt Barnes. He should’ve been ejected in the third quarter.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant did the most (34 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals), though he could’ve shown more smarts late in the game.