Magic Know They Will Have To Be At Their Best To Beat Lakers and Clippers

Orlando faces both L.A. teams in challenging back-to-back
by John Denton

LOS ANGELES – With apologies to Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio’s down-on-their-luck characters in ``Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,’’ they aren’t the only ones struggling to find much professional success in Southern California these days considering the offseason injections of megawatt talent by the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers.

For most visiting NBA teams, coming to Los Angeles has been a disastrous proposition this season – especially when forced to face LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers and Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Clippers on successive nights.

On Tuesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers will become the fifth team this season to come into L.A. and play the star-studded Lakers and Clippers on back-to-back nights at Staples Center. Prior to Tuesday’s tipoff, those five teams had gone a combined 1-8 in those games with six of the eight losses being by double digits while also suffering an average margin of failure at 18.5 points per rout.

This just in: The Clippers (27-13 before Tuesday night) and Lakers (33-7) are pretty good – and, quite possibly, even more lethal when foes have to play them on back-to-back nights. (The New York Knicks played the Lakers and Knicks in a three-day span on Jan. 5 and 7 and lost the two games by a combined 33 points.)

The Orlando Magic, 19-21 after winning in dramatic fashion in Sacramento on Monday, will be the next to try and weather the one-two flurry of haymakers that the Lakers and Clippers will undoubtedly throw at them when they face L.A.’s two powerhouses the next two nights.

``Watching the Lakers win by (29 on Monday) night didn’t really put me in the greatest mood for practice,’’ said Magic coach Steve Clifford, referring to the Lakers’ 128-99 demolition of Cleveland. ``I mean, it’s just the way the league is – you win a good game on the road and you get up the next morning and there’s LeBron James. That’s the league.

``They’re two championship caliber teams and they’re playing at home so it’s going to be (difficult) and you’ll have to play well,’’ Clifford continued, referring to the Lakers and Clippers. ``I don’t even look at (the upcoming schedule); I want us to play well. When you play well in this league, you always have a chance.’’

Teams haven’t stood much of a chance in Los Angeles this season as the Lakers (16-4) and the Clippers (17-4) have combined to go 33-8 at home. Since two of those games featured L.A. vs. L.A. – both won by the Clippers – foes from outside of Southern California have won just seven times in 39 games thus far.

The reigning World Champion Toronto Raptors are the only team thus far to win a game when facing the Lakers and Clippers on consecutive nights. They beat the Lakers 113-104 back on Nov. 10, but promptly lost to the Clippers 98-88 a night later. Others, such as Charlotte, Atlanta, Oklahoma City and Cleveland, are 0-7 when in L.A. for consecutive games.

Shooting guard Evan Fournier, whose pass to Aaron Gordon led to Orlando’s game-winning points in Monday’s 114-112 defeat of Sacramento, is no fan of a schedule that will see the Magic play the Lakes and Clippers consecutively.

``That’s a terrible road trip because we only come to L.A. once, and we usually have a little bit of time (between games). This is my first time since I’ve been with the Magic that we play back-to-back like this,’’ said Fournier, who had 25 points and six assists on Monday. ``It’s hard (playing the Lakers and Clippers consecutively), but that’s the NBA and you have to be ready for any challenges. The focus is (Wednesday) on the Lakers, and after that game focus on the Clippers. One game at a time and execute our game plan.’’

The Magic’s game plan might grow a bit more complicated with veteran point guard D.J. Augustin unlikely to play on Wednesday because of a sore left knee. Augustin sat out of Friday’s loss in Phoenix in hopes that resting the knee would help, but he felt more pain following Monday’s victory. Augustin’s injury is complicated by the fact that Michael Carter-Williams (left shoulder sprain) has missed the past 11 games and is listed as questionable to play. Also, the Magic waived reserve guard Josh Magette on Tuesday to make room on the roster for free-agent forward Gary Clark, previously of the Houston Rockets.

The Lakers, Orlando’s opponent for Wednesday, has been a runaway train from the rest of the NBA much of the season. Led by the domination of Davis (27.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.6 blocks a game), the do-everything talents of James (25.5 points, 10.7 assists and 7.8 rebounds a game) and a revitalized season for former Magic center Dwight Howard (7.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game), the Lakers have followed up their one lull this season (a four-game skid) with nine straight wins.

As for the Clippers, they saw a two-game winning streak come to an end on Sunday when George didn’t play against the Denver Nuggets because of a strained left hamstring. The Clippers are just 8-6 this season when George has been out because of injuries. As for Leonard – who the Magic got to see plenty of last season when he led the Raptors past them in the playoffs – he went into Tuesday having played in 30 of 40 games and has averaged 25.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists a game.

In their 31-year history, the Magic have swept games in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers just four times (2012-13, 2008-08, 2007-08 and 1995-96). Last season, Orlando beat the Lakers in Los Angeles, but it lost to the Clippers for an 11thtime in a row regardless of the site of the game – its longest active skid in the NBA.

Now, a Magic team that is 6-23 all-time against the Lakers in L.A. and 12-17 against the Clippers in Southern California will attempt to take them both down in consecutive nights. Doing that anywhere this season – L.A. or otherwise – has proven to be quite difficult for foes, Fournier pointed out.

``People aren’t really beating L.A. any way,’’ Fournier said, not specifying which `L.A.’ team he was referring to. ``They’re a good team. Of course, playing on a back-to-back is even harder, but they’re just a great team, they have great players and that makes it hard enough. So, yeah, it’s definitely tough playing them both.’’

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.


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