Postgame Report: Magic at Lakers

by John Denton

LOS ANGELES – Considering the manner in which the Orlando Magic valiantly fought on Wednesday – both in springing to an early 15-point lead and rallying back from a 12-point deficit in the final five minutes to take a lead – they felt completely robbed late when a final try was denied because of a clock error.

Orlando brazenly rallied for a one-point advantage with five seconds to play only to see that edge disappear when Los Angeles Lakers center Brook Lopez drew a controversial foul and drilled two free throws inside of the game’s final second.

And that wasn’t even the final most bizarre moment at the end.

The Magic had a final chance with six-tenths of a second remaining taken away from them when the clock was started too early, resulting in a game-ending jump ball at center court. In the end, the Magic had to try and swallow the bitter taste of a 108-107 loss to the Lakers and having their last-ditch effort at a victory snatched away from them. Understandably, it provoked feelings of frustration from those who put the Magic in a position to win before the bizarre finish.

``Obviously, you’ve got to change the rule with the inadvertent whistle,’’ said forward Aaron Gordon, who had converted the coast-to-coast layup with five seconds left that put the Magic up one. ``For the most part, referees did a good job throughout the game. So, they’ve got to change that rule with the inadvertent whistle and at least give us the chance to win the game.’’

With six-tenths of a second remaining, Orlando’s Mario Hezonja lobbed a pass into the air and the final horn sounded because the clock started before the ball was touched. When that happened as the ball was in midair, referees went to the rule book, determined there was no possession by either team and signaled for a jump ball.

It was the second time this season where the Magic had a game it could have potentially won end with a jump ball at center court because of an erroneous whistle or clock malfunction. The Magic had the same sort of thing happen at the end of a 104-103 loss in Cleveland where an inadvertent whistle resulted in a game-ending jump ball.

``There was a clock malfunction. By rule, the officials go to the scorer’s table (and determine) they started the clock before it was supposed to start,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said, referring to the explanation given to him by referees. ``As a result, they took the ball from us and make it a jump ball with point-six seconds, which kills any chance of us of us winning it or tying the game up. I’d think that you’d give the ball back to the team that had it, but they ruled since the ball was in the air that it was a jump ball. I don’t agree that rule.

``It’s frustrating.’’

Bill Spooner, the referee crew chief from Wednesday’s game, had this to say to a pool reporter following the controversial finish: ``The rule is 13E-9-2, and anytime there is either an inadvertent whistle and/or a horn when the ball is in the air, there’s no possession and we go center circle, jump ball.’’

Orlando (20-45) trailed 99-87 with 5:20 to play before mounting a furious charge that led to the frantic finish. The Magic used two 3-pointers from Shelvin Mack, another from Gordon, a basket by Nikola Vucevic and a flurry of free throws by Jonathon Simmons to make it tight. Orlando seemed like it would fall short after Simmons made just one of two free throws with 33.8 seconds to play. However, after getting a defensive stop Gordon showed off his tremendous will and pushed the ball ahead for a gritty layup that shockingly gave the Magic a 107-106 lead with seconds to play.

Following an L.A. timeout, the Lakers got the ball inside to Lopez, who spun baseline and drew a foul on Vucevic. Lopez, who finished with 27 points, calmly sank the two free throws that allowed the Lakers to regain the lead and send the Staples Center crowd of 18,997 into a frenzy.

Vucevic, however, was less than thrilled with the whistle that put Lopez on the line and the controversial jump ball at the end.

``He made a good move and he’s a good matchup. He’s big and he’s good at getting his shot up. I don’t know if I fouled him or not, but the ref said I hit him in the head,’’ Vucevic said. ``I might have, but I’ll have to look at it. That was a tough play. He won the game with that play.’’

The Lakers (29-35) saw their five-game winning streak come to an end on Monday when they melted down late in the game against Portland and lost a big lead. On Wednesday, they nearly suffered the same fate as the Magic made a furious charge to take the lead with five ticks remaining.

Lakers’ rookie Kyle Kuzma, a player the Magic seriously considered drafting last June, had two hard drives to the rim in an 11-0 burst that gave L.A. a seemingly comfortable lead with six minutes to play. By the time the Lakers’ run got up to 14-2, Orlando found itself in that 99-87 hole.

The loss ruined spectacular offensive efforts from Vucevic (24 points and 12 rebounds) and Gordon (28 points and 14 rebounds). Vucevic, who attended high school just outside of Los Angeles and college at USC, made 11 of 18 shots and continued his storied success against Lopez. Gordon scored 12 points in the game’s first 10 minutes and made 11 of 20 shots and four of six 3-pointers in the game.

The defeat at the hands of the Lakers wasn’t the only loss of the night for the Magic. Standout guard Evan Fournier, the team’s second-leading scorer, sprained his knee during a third-quarter collision and did not return to the game. His absence after making five of six shots and scoring 11 points hurt the Magic during the decisive fourth quarter.

``My foot was stuck and I got hit and my knee went to the inside, so I was stuck and it was awkward,’’ Fournier said of a knee injury that will require a MRI in Sacramento on Thursday. ``I tried to play on it for a few minutes, but I knew it wasn’t all right, so we’ll see.’’

Lopez bailed out the Lakers by making 12 of 18 shots, while Kuzma scored 20. Lonzo Ball chipped in 16 for a Lakers’ team determined to get revenge on the Magic for a lopsided January loss at the Amway Center. Lakers coach Luke Walton showed footage of that defeat to Orlando prior to Wednesday’s game in hopes of firing up his team.

``We showed some it this morning. Normally we wouldn’t because of the way that we played and the emotions that it brought out,’’ Walton said before the game. ``I re-watched it, so I made them watch it too. … Anger and frustration were the two (emotions) that stuck out most. It was probably not a good idea to watch something like that before trying to go to sleep.’’

Wednesday’s game was the first time the Magic have faced Ball because the rookie missed the first meeting in Orlando due to a knee injury.

The Magic came into the game on the heels of Monday’s ugly 94-80 loss in Utah on Monday – a game in which they set new season lows for points (80) and shooting percentage (34.1 percent).

Orlando’s longest road trip of the season continues on Friday night when it plays the Kings in Sacramento. After that, the Magic will be back in Los Angeles for a second stop – this time to face off against the playoff-contending Clippers. The Magic will be on the road until Tuesday and won’t be back at the Amway Center until next Thursday.

Down four at the half, the Magic impressively fought their way back into the lead in the third quarter. However, their two leads – by one and two points – lasted just 17 seconds total. Orlando had few answers on the defensive end after halftime, allowing L.A. to shoot 64.7 percent and take an 81-79 lead into the fourth period.

Ball scored 13 of his points in the third period by making five of seven shots and all three of his 3-pointers. He was highly criticized for his shooting form early in the season but has since become a trusty outside shooter. He came into Wednesday having made 17 of 29 3-point shots (58.6 percent) since returning from a midseason knee injury.

The Magic trailed 56-51 at the half – a shocking fact considering that they led by as much as 15 points in the game’s first 11 minutes. After racing to a 32-17 lead behind a stellar start from Gordon, the Lakers zipped into the lead thanks to their hustle in getting loose balls and contributions from Kuzma (12 first-half points), Lopez (12 first-half points) and Thomas (three 3-pointers in opening half).

Gordon came out in serious attack mode, smashing rival power forward Julius Randle for 12 points and five rebounds in his first eight minutes on the floor. However, Gordon – who took nine of Orlando’s first 16 shots – was pulled from the game late in the first period. By the time he came back, the Magic had lost the lead.

In the closing seconds, Gordon seemed to have put the Magic in position for a win with his layup with five seconds remaining. However, that victory was snatched away because of the bizarre set of circumstances that followed, resulting in the Lakers’ one-point victory.

``It’s just a terrible end to a game of basketball,’’ Gordon fumed. ``They didn’t even give us a chance to win and that’s the last time we see (the Lakers this season). We’ve got to wait a year to see them again. They’ve got to change that (jump-ball) rule and I think they will.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.