By John Denton Jan. 31, 2018
ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic were supposed to be the more fatigued and fragile team on Wednesday what with them not arriving back into Central Florida until 2 a.m. and Houston superstar James Harden doing quite a historic number on them less than 24 hours earlier.
However, none of that mattered on a night when the Magic shared the ball beautifully, shot it with confidence and made some history of their own.
Already up at the half thanks to a stellar start, Orlando buried a franchise-record nine 3-pointers in the third quarter to break the spirit of the more-rested Los Angeles Lakers. For the game, Orlando drilled 18 threes and handed out 28 assists to throttle the Lakers 127-105 and distance themselves a bit from Tuesday’s heartbreaking defeat.
``We could have come into this game and had the excuse that we lost a close game against a great team (on Tuesday in Houston), but we came with a great mindset,’’ said center/forward Marreese Speights, who had a game-high 21 points and three 3-pointers and the Magic were a whopping plus-22 in his 23 minutes on the floor. ``We had the opportunity to get a good win (Wednesday) after losing the one (Tuesday) night against a hot team. I’m proud of the guys who came in with no excuses and got the win.’’
The Magic (15-35) beat the Lakers (19-31) for a fifth straight time at the Amway Center thanks, in large part, to a 43-30 blowout in the third period when they torched the nets. Orlando hit nine of its first 11 3-point shots in the third quarter to push its lead to 20 points by the start of the fourth.
For Magic coach Frank Vogel, the victory was somewhat cathartic after his team played especially well in recent losses to Indiana and Houston but had little to show for it in terms of victories.
``We’ve been playing with the pass a bunch of late – we’re really buying into that – and it’s worked a lot for us, but it hasn’t resulted in wins. Tonight, we got red-hot and got the victory,’’ said Vogel, whose Magic made 33 of 63 3-point shots on Tuesday and Wednesday. ``(Winning) is important. You can talk about staying positive and how well we’re doing individually and the habits that we’re building, but you need results to reinforce what we’re doing. Our guys are bringing it, playing the right way and playing together. I’m happy for them that they got the `W.’’’
Evan Fournier (19 points) had four 3-pointers and 14 points in the third period. Jonathon Simmons (14 points) and Mario Hezonja (14 points) each had two 3-pointers in the period, while Speights also had a three in the third. Speights, one of the standouts from Tuesday’s game, made six of 11 shots and three of six 3-point attempts in the game, while Hezonja drilled four of five 3-point shots.
Hezonja said it was Speights – one of the team’s most veteran players – who demanded early in the day that the Magic not bring any excuses into the night.
``Who cares about (excuses)? We have to step up every night that we play because that’s an opportunity for us to change our season that has gone south for many reasons,’’ said Hezonja, who had 31 points and seven 3-pointers combined in Tuesday and Wednesday’s games. ``The entire game, with our energy, it felt like they were the team that was playing back-to-back and not us. That just brings everybody up to do more.’’
As it has been much of the past seven games, when the Magic have been one of the NBA’s top-10 offenses, the ball movement was spectacular. Orlando not only swung the ball from side to side, but it passed up good shots for great shots. They set up their 14 baskets in the third quarter with nine assists.
The Magic tied a season high with the 18 3-pointers. They drilled 15 a night earlier in Houston.
``We’re just hungry and trying to get a win because we’re not like the results that we’ve been getting the last few days,’’ said reserve guard Shelvin Mack, who had 13 points and seven assists. ``We’ve been right there every game, but it’s good to see it finally click. … In the NBA, there’s a quick turnaround and we were excited to play (on Wednesday). We know that we’ve been playing better but not getting the results. We feel like we’ve been letting a few opportunities slide by and it was good to take advantage of this one.’’
The Lakers came into Orlando as one of the NBA’s hottest teams – a surprising fact considering that they suffered through a nine-game losing skid in mid-December. They responded to that by winning eight of the next 11 games and had a four-game winning streak stopped in Toronto before heading to Orlando.
L.A. was overwhelmed most of the night and didn’t have the lead after it was 12-11 in the first quarter. The Magic led by seven at the half, by 20 at the end of three periods and by as much as 29 in a fourth quarter that devolved into garbage time because of the lopsided nature of the game.
Julius Randle had 20 points and nine rebounds for the Lakers, who shot 47 percent from the floor and made just four of 20 3-pointers. Los Angeles ranks 30th in the NBA in 3-point shooting.
``On a scale, that was as bad as it’s been,’’ Lakers coach Luke Walton fumed. ``The lowest numbers we’ve had for the season, that was it. We weren’t committed to guarding anyone.’’
The Magic were without standout power forward Aaron Gordon for a second straight game because of a strained left hip flexor. He suffered the injury late in Saturday’s loss in Indiana and has been able to do little on the basketball court since then, missing two practices and two games.
Being without Gordon – the team’s leading scorer at 18.4 points per game – hasn’t boded well for the Magic this season as they came into Wednesday just 1-9 when he was out injured. On Wednesday, they overcame the loss of the dynamic power forward with some stellar shooting and crisp ball movement.
The Magic were playing less than 24 hours after Houston’s Harden made NBA history against them by scoring the most points ever (60) in triple-double performance. Orlando had the game tied at 107 with less than two minutes to play, but it fell 114-107 because of Harden’s record-setting performance.
Orlando was not only playing a second time in as many nights, but it was forced to try and battle through one of the most difficult obstacles in the NBA: A West-to-East back-to-back set of games. With their game in Houston not tipping off until 8 p.m. ET, the Magic didn’t arrive back in Central Florida until 2 a.m. The squad was back at the Amway Center just 14 hours later for a walk-through and film session to prepare them for the game against the Lakers.
``I think everybody knew (there were potential excuses), but no one said anything because we came ready to play,’’ Hezonja said. ``There was no messing around or anything. We were ready and that’s why things went well for us on the court.’’
That work will earn the Magic a day off on Thursday. The team will return to the practice court on Friday to prepare for Saturday’s home game against the John Wall-less Washington Wizards. Wall underwent knee surgery earlier in the week that will likely knock him out of action for six-to-eight weeks.
Up seven at the half, Orlando had a couple of shaky moments early in the third period, but it overcame them with the stellar shooting from 3-point range. Fournier scored 14 of Orlando’s first 21 points of the second half to pave the way for the blowout. His shooting, combined with that from Hezonja, Simmons and Speights, allowed Orlando to take a 101-81 lead into the fourth period.
Orlando’s nine 3-pointers in the third quarter was one more than the previous record of eight, which was set in the third game of this season in Cleveland.
``I knew there was a lot of them going in, but I didn’t know how many we were hitting,’’ Speights said after being informed that the Magic hit nine of their first 11 3-point shots in the third quarter. ``Evan (Fournier) was hitting them and (Simmons) was hitting them. It was good, man. It was good seeing the ball go in.’’
Vogel had plenty of concerns about the Lakers using their youth and athleticism to outrun the obviously fatigued Magic, but those fears weren’t realized in a first half that favored Orlando. The Magic shot 50 percent from the floor and drilled five 3-pointers to grab a 58-51 lead at intermission.
Orlando actually outran the Lakers in the first 24 minutes, holding a 13-8 edge in fast break points at the break. The Magic were able to run, largely, because their defense got stops.
As has been the case over the last three weeks as the Magic have played better basketball, they shared the ball beautifully and used one another to create open looks. The Magic used assists to set up 12 of their first 20 field goals. All 10 players who saw action in the first half scored and six of them had multiple field goals.
When the Magic backed up that stellar start with some torrid third-quarter shooting and a solid fourth period, it allowed the rid themselves of the bitter taste from a night earlier. Finally, Hezonja said, Orlando had some payoff for playing better over the last few weeks.
``It (stinks) that we’ve been losing games while we’ve been playing (well),’’ said Hezonja, who has boosted his season scoring average to 7.4 points per game and 34.2 percent accuracy from 3-point range. ``Some nights we’ve even played better than opponents who have beaten us. But we stayed the course. We executed the plays, listened to what we had to do and we moved the ball. We’re staying in every game and now we’ve finally won.’’
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