Postgame Report: Magic vs. Lakers (3/8/16)

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By John Denton

March 8, 2016

LOS ANGELES – Despite having one of the NBA’s youngest rosters, the Orlando Magic have struggled all season on the second night of back-to-back games, prompting head coach Scott Skiles to put his team on high alert.

``We pretty much talk about (playing with energy) 24/7,’’ Skiles said nervously before his Magic faced the Los Angeles Lakers.

For a half, the Magic had plenty of vigor and energy and repeatedly threatened to blow the Lakers out of an eerily quiet Staples Center. Then, inexplicably, a Magic team that controlled the night’s first 24 minutes hit a wall physically and never responded to a furious third-quarter charge by Los Angeles.

Up as much as eight points early in the game and dominant for stretches of the first half, the Magic had no answers in a lopsided third period and never mounted much of a rally in a head-scratching 107-98 loss to the Kobe Bryant-less Lakers.

``Defensively, we weren’t in sync enough and we played like we were tired or, I don’t know, like we didn’t want to win,’’ said frustrated Magic guard Evan Fournier, who had 23 points, four rebounds and three assists. ``It’s just intensity, man. It’s just very frustrating to see a game that we should have won, definitely, (lost). So it’s just frustrating.’’

Orlando (27-36) got outscored 39-26 in a listless third quarter when it went from up six at intermission to trailing by seven by the start of the fourth. The 39 points in the third tied the high for any quarter this season for the rebuilding Lakers (14-51).

``We came out kind of flat, kind of jogging the ball up and slow to get into our stuff and then they went on a run and scored – I believe – on nine-of-10 possessions,’’ Magic coach Scott Skiles said. ``They had the three best players on the floor tonight and generally when you have that, you win the game.’’

The Magic dropped 5 ½ games back of the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race and their third consecutive victory – two of them coming against Phoenix and L.A. – could be a death knell for their postseason hopes.

Orlando is now a confounding 4-9 on the second night of back-to-backs. It came into Tuesday giving up 105 points in those games and it saw that average rise yet again after the Lakers carved up the Magic defense for 56.4 percent shooting in the second half and 49.4 percent for the game.

``I think we have to have a sense of urgency. We’re in a playoff push and the light is getting dimmer and dimmer as we let these games go,’’ said Jason Smith, who started at center in place of Nikola Vucevic (strained right groin). ``It’s something that we have to focus consciously every night, no matter what your body is telling you coming off a back-to-back. No matter what, you have to play hard and give good effort.

``It’s hard to do that. We had a great effort against Golden State and we came out (Tuesday) lackadaisical,’’ Smith added. ``We were thinking that game would be given to us because of (the Lakers’) record. But on any given night any team can come out and beat you. The Lakers proved that tonight. We’ve just got to regroup.’’

The Magic couldn’t slow down penetrating point guard D’Angelo Russell (27 points) and Julius Randle (23 points and 11 rebounds), who combined for 25 points in the game-turning third quarter. Jordan Clarkson had another 24 points and five 3-pointers for the Lakers, which won a second straight game after stunning the Golden State Warriors on Sunday.

As it turns out, Orlando’s best highlight of the night was a jaw-dropping windmill dunk in the third period from forward Dunk Contest standout Aaron Gordon (five points and four rebounds). Victor Oladipo (26 points) and Fournier excelled early in the game, but they seemed to have little life left in their legs in the second half. Gordon blamed himself as well for lacking energy.

``We couldn’t get a stop pretty much all night,’’ Gordon said. ``I think it’s a mentality and I need to get past (lacking energy) on my own with myself. When I don’t have energy I’m doing a disservice to my team and that’s unacceptable. I’m going to make it one of my priorities on back-to-backs to come with more energy and get past that mentally. I’m definitely tired, but that can’t be an excuse for how I performed.’’

Orlando got little to no production off its bench in either half. Brandon Jennings, who scored 20 points a night earlier, missed all four of his shots and reserves Ersan Ilyasova, Mario Hezonja, Dewayne Dedmon and Andrew Nicholson were also ineffective. Skiles said he preferred using C.J. Watson (10 points and five assists) instead of Jennings or starter Elfrid Payton (seven points and three assists) for much of the second half.

For the second time this season and the sixth time over the past three seasons, Lakers’ legend Bryant missed a game against the Magic. The official diagnosis for Bryant missing the game is a sore right shoulder. He last played on Sunday in L.A.’s stunning defeat of Golden State, scoring 12 points despite making just four of 14 shots. Coincidence or not, Bryant could play on Thursday when the Lakers will play LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday in a nationally televised game.

The future Hall of Famer announced on Nov. 30 that this season – his 20th with the Lakers – will be his last in the NBA and he will be retiring. In his career against the Magic, Bryant averaged 25 points per game, twice scoring 41 points. As it turns out, March 12, 2013 was Bryant’s last game against the Magic and he had 11 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

Orlando was without Vucevic – its leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker on the season – for a second consecutive game because of a groin strain. The 7-footer had a MRI on his groin on Tuesday morning to determine the extent of the injury. There is no timetable for his return.

Up 51-45 at the half, Orlando saw things come unraveled in the third period. The Magic put up little defensive resistance in the period, allowing the Lakers to hit 13 of 22 shots (59.1 percent). L.A.’s 39-26 burst in the period left Orlando in an 84-77 hole by the start of the fourth quarter.

``We stopped moving the ball and we can’t get any stops on the defensive end,’’ Watson said. ``That’s what really hurt us.’’

Gordon had the lone highlight of the third, taking a pass from Oladipo and wind-milling in a dunk to send a hush over the Staples Center crowd.

Orlando was playing one night after pushing the defending champion Golden State Warriors to the brink in a 119-113 loss. The Magic were within two points with 1:13 to play, but they ultimately fell as Golden State won its NBA-record 45th straight game at home.

Tuesday’s game was the second of a four-game West Coat swing for the Magic. Orlando will be off on Wednesday and practice in Los Angeles on Thursday before facing the Sacramento Kings on Friday. The Magic will wrap up the trip Saturday night in Portland.

After rallying much of Monday’s second half against Golden State, Orlando picked up where it left off in Tuesday’s first half and impressively led 51-45 at intermission. The Magic were clearly the better team throughout the first 24 minutes, shooting 47.7 percent from the floor, scoring 24 points in the paint and running their way to five baskets.

However, the strong play disappeared in an ugly, runaway third quarter. Now on the point of falling hopelessly out of the playoff race all together, the Magic know they must respond in order to save their season.

``As players, you’ve always got to bring it 100 percent every night,’’ Fournier said. ``That’s the kind of mentality that we have to have going forward.’’

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