Orlando Magic at Los Angeles Lakers: Game Preview

Chuma Okeke
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- A new era of Orlando Magic basketball officially tips off on Sunday as the team embarks on their second West Coast trip of the season.

Recent acquisitions Wendell Carter Jr., R.J. Hampton, and Otto Porter Jr. make their Magic debuts as Orlando visits the defending NBA champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, at 10 p.m. ET.

In their first post-trade-deadline contest, the Magic displayed the same grittiness and determination that’s been a staple of this franchise since head coach Steve Clifford arrived just over 2 ½ seasons ago. Despite being heavily outgunned and undermanned, Orlando battled the Portland Trail Blazers to the buzzer in a 112-105 home loss on Friday. The team will now look to keep that identity while also incorporating the new pieces into their rotation.

“To have a chance to play better on Sunday, guys have to get acclimated to what we’re doing,” Clifford explained. “And these guys that are playing more minutes, we made far, far too many basic mistakes (on Friday), so they need the reps also.”

In order to turn that vision into a reality, the Magic went through a detailed practice session on Saturday before traveling across the country. Since training time is limited due to a truncated mid-season schedule, the focus was on Orlando’s basic principles as the Magic balance the benefit of doing a few things well versus explaining all aspects of their schemes to the newest members of their squad.

One thing, however, is for certain. The additions Orlando made at the deadline are all eager to get to work and make the most of their new opportunity.

“It’s great to be here,” Carter explained. “I came here for a pre-draft workout about two years ago now, and I loved everybody on the coaching staff, I loved all the players on the team, and it’s just funny how the world works. Now that I’m here, it’s a huge opportunity for me to try to change some things up for this team, try to bring everything that I can do at a very high level, just showcase that. Just help this team win; that’s really what I’m all about is winning. I’m just very excited and ready to get going.”

The Magic are equally excited to see Carter firsthand on the floor in their system. They view him as a young, talented big who has an opportunity to blossom as a player alongside the rest of Orlando’s core.

The other piece clearly on the team’s timeline that was added to the mix through their trade with Denver is Hampton, an immensely athletic combo guard. The team was high on him in the 2020 NBA Draft and believes that along with his blazing speed that he has all the tools to be an outstanding defender.

“The (Magic players), they all looked so focused, they look eager to win more games, (and) eager to finish off the season the right way,” said Hampton. “Then, how I see myself fitting in with those guys is have fun, play the right way, share the ball. We’re a really young, fast, athletic team, I think that’s something that I bring.”

The Magic are also hopeful that Gary Harris, acquired in the Denver deal, and Porter, part of their trade with the Chicago Bulls, will help provide veteran leadership. Harris is still recovering from a left adductor strain, while Porter will come in ready to contribute and provide an instant boost to Orlando’s offense.

“I’m happy to be here,” said Porter, who is averaging 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game this season, while shooting 40.0 percent from three-point range. “Personally, it is a fresh start, a great opportunity to play some really good basketball. I think I can bring my leadership being a veteran that can bring a lot of little things that will hopefully help the younger guys and teach them what it takes to get some wins.”

KEY STAT: In back-to-back games, Magic rookie Chuma Okeke has set new career scoring highs. After going 6-for-6 from the floor and 4-for-4 from three on his way to a 17-point performance in a win over the Phoenix Suns, the Auburn alum followed it up with a 22-point effort against the Blazers.

“I feel like I’m getting really comfortable,” said Okeke, who’s back to primarily playing power forward after being asked to switch between the three and the four due to the team’s injury situation. “I’m just taking the shots that are given to me. My teammates just do a good job of penetrating, drawing the defense in and kicking it out. And then, I just have to make the shot.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I’m excited. I’m definitely looking forward to it. I’m excited to be with the guys, the organization, and I can’t wait to get back on the court. Just watching the guys play out there, they play hard. I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing hard with them.” – Harris on joining the Magic.

INJURY UPDATE: Cole Anthony (non-displaced fracture, right rib), Markelle Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), Harris, Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation), and Terrence Ross (sore right knee) are out.

For the Lakers, Anthony Davis (right calf strain), LeBron James (right high ankle sprain), and Jared Dudley (right MCL tear) are all expected to be out.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by Lakers beat writer Kyle Goon, who covers the team for the Southern California News Group. The 93-day NBA bubble veteran was kind enough to take the time and provide his insight on the Lakers.

Savage: “Obviously, Magic fans won’t get the chance to see Anthony Davis or LeBron on Sunday, but how are those guys progressing along with their injuries?”

Goon: “We heard yesterday that AD is able to ramp up his on-court work, dribbling and stuff like that, a little more intensely than he has been. So, that’s good news. (Lakers Head Coach) Frank Vogel said the other day, ‘AD is still a ways away.’ I would interpret that probably in the two-week range from Friday when he was just evaluated. So, definitely some time left on that. Then, LeBron, it’s a little bit more of an unknown. His timeline right now is officially indefinite. When you look at high-ankle sprains, they usually take four to six weeks to heal and obviously, being older, you have to wonder if that influences LeBron’s recovery time. He’s as good as anyone at taking care of his body, but the Lakers also don’t want to rush that along and give those guys more risk if they can be back in the playoffs when it really matters.”

Savage: “The Lakers team that we’ll see tomorrow won’t have those two, so how have the Lakers been playing without AD and LeBron? I imagine that changes them quite a bit, so who is taking on the leading role for them with those two out?”

Goon: “It’s just more disjointed because LeBron does so much. He has so much control over the offense and defense. So, you see things like turnovers and missed rotations more commonly, and you realize how much he does in terms of leadership. The guy who’s really stood out the last week or so is Dennis Schroder. Obviously, he’s the best, healthy player that the Lakers have right now and he’s kind of been leading it on both ends by being a fairly consistent scorer and also an energy guy on defense bringing pressure and taking on big assignments. Dennis is in a contract year. He’s a guy who is trying to prove that he’s worth a big extension. He understands that how he plays right now has implications on how the league sees him and how the Lakers see him. So, especially (on Friday) night, we saw Dennis actually block a shot off the glass at six-foot-three. So, you know he’s bringing a lot of intensity on both ends every night.”

Savage: “Assuming that LeBron and AD are going to come back healthy, based off what you saw from them before those injuries, what does this Lakers team need to do in order to make another Finals run?”

Goon: “I think the one consistent theme for them even when AD and LeBron have been injured is defense. They’ve still remained the best defensive team in the NBA, and (Friday) night that was their edge against Cleveland. As long as they retain that culture, I think that’s going to be the key to them certainly advancing to The Finals, especially against some really high-scoring teams in the West. When AD and LeBron are on the floor, the Lakers identity can be so fluid that it’s really hard to match up with them because Anthony Davis can play four or five, depending on the matchup, and LeBron can pretty much play any position he wants. That’s what was really key in the last playoff run. When you look at how many great scorers there are and at how many different positions on teams currently going to the playoffs, that’s going to be the key to advancing this year. Being able to just be chameleon-like defensively, morph into what the series needs, and of course be healthy.”


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