Lakers erase 21-point second-half deficit then fall to Magic
Each time the Lakers put themselves within striking distance in the final minutes, the Orlando Magic had an answer.
When Quinn Cook made a three-point basket to cut the Lakers’ deficit to one point with about a minute remaining, Orlando center Nikola Vucevic coolly made a three-pointer to answer. When a JaVale McGee dunk trimmed the Lakers’ deficit to two points, Markelle Fultz countered with a driving layup.
For the last week, the Lakers had been beating up on overmatched opponents who couldn’t overcome a team without Anthony Davis. On Wednesday, their run finally ended. The Magic won 119-118, handing the Lakers only their eighth loss and first to a team with a losing record. The Magic improved to 20-21.
“Every loss bothers us regardless of it’s a bad team or a good team,” Danny Green said. “Especially when you feel like you’re one of the better teams in the league and where you want to be at the end of the season. You want to be perfect, or close to it.”
Orlando was led by Fultz, who finished with 21 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds.
LeBron James finished with 19 points and tied a career high with 19 assists. His final assist came at the final buzzer on a basket by Cook, whose season-high 22 points led the game. The Lakers got 14 points from McGee, 17 each from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Troy Daniels, and 11 from Green. In all, the Lakers got 68 points off their bench.
“The bench is the reason there was a game at the end,” James said. “They just came in and produced everything we needed.”
Davis sat out his fourth consecutive game because of a bruised gluteus maximus. The Lakers also were without Rajon Rondo, whose right ring finger was taped after having suffered a fracture Saturday in Oklahoma City.
The Lakers used a steady diet of McGee in the first quarter, and the center had eight points in less than four minutes. James took only one shot and didn’t score in the nine minutes he played in the first quarter.
“He was clearly trying to get his teammates involved,” coach Frank Vogel said. “He was really facilitating getting guys open looks all over the place. He played the same way with Quinn and KCP and Troy [when they] were in there. Those guys were making shots.”
As the Lakers worked to minimize their deficit heading into halftime, they made two momentum-shifting plays. First, Terrence Ross wound up and elevated for what he hoped would be a thundering dunk over McGee. Instead, McGee blocked the shot.
“That’s one of the greatest dunk attempts I’ve ever seen before in my life,” James said.
In their three games without Anthony Davis as he recovers from a bruised glute, the Lakers have won three times. ‘It looks like they don’t need me,’ he joked.
Moments later, Daniels made a three-pointer and drew a foul. He made the ensuing free throw for a four-point play, and the Lakers went into halftime trailing 65-58.
After halftime, the Lakers lost another key player. Alex Caruso, who was hit in the face in the first quarter, was given a concussion test that returned inconclusive. He sat out the rest of the game.
Orlando made a push to extend their lead, even building it back up to 21 points early in the third quarter. But the Lakers closed the quarter on a 22-2 run to cut the deficit to one point.
Cook, thrust into a bigger role because of the injuries to Rondo and Caruso, led the way. He scored the Lakers’ final seven points in the period, finishing with 13 through three quarters.
The Lakers fought for every point they earned, with players such as Jared Dudley diving to save a loose ball, and Caldwell-Pope taking a charge. They helped energize the Lakers but fell just short.
“Our team is very deep and when someone’s maybe not playing particularly well we have the ability to go to guys off the bench,” James said. “Like I said, without everyone off the bench tonight we would’ve gotten blown out. Very proud of those guys coming in and just relishing the opportunity.”
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