While the results of the previous two games weren’t ideal, the Lakers have been playing better basketball in recent weeks and will look to continue their collective improvement in Orlando against a struggling Magic team.
Coming in, the Magic have been one of the few teams struggling more than the Lakers on the year. Since the turn of the new year, the Magic have won one of 11 games and have been worse on the defensive end than the Lakers — which only took a step in the wrong direction when center Nikola Vucevic went down with a concussion on Jan. 6 against the Clippers. Since then, the Magic have given up at least 100 points to their opposition in every game save for a 93-91 win over the Celtics.
One of the reasons the Magic haven’t been able to find much success is their putrid bench unit. Jameer Nelson and rookie of the year candidate Victor Oladipo have been having a decent season while swing man Arron Afflalo is a fringe all-star candidate. Up front, Glen Davis and Tobias Harris have been serviceable, but that’s about where Orlando’s talent ends. On the bench, Orlando has a collection of marginal talent that makes it a little easier to look at the Lakers roster. The Lakers will face the likes of Jason Maxiell, Maurice Harkless, E’Twaun Moore, and Doron Lamb off the bench.
For the Lakers, there has been a huge improvement in the play of Pau Gasol, and for the first time since late November/early December, the team has the feel that any guy on the roster could have a decent game and cary the team. Against Miami, it was Jodie Meeks and Gasol who had decent nights. In the two games against Chicago and Toronto, Nick Young averaged 30 points while Ryan Kelly averaged 15 points in the same two games in his new role as a starter in D’Antoni’s system.
Tonight, the Lakers should look to give the Magic a healthy dose of Pau early and often. The Magic starting front court will be 6-9 Glen Davis and a much thinner 6-9 Tobias Harris. We should expect to see Gasol double teamed with either guy attempting to defend Gasol, who will have a huge height advantage over both, a speed advantage over Davis and a strength advantage over Harris. With the double teams, shooters should be freed for open looks on the perimeter.
Like every night, the Lakers cannot allow misses on long shot turn into transition opportunities nor can they afford to turn the ball over at a high rate. Giving teams extra possessions has been the team’s issue all season, but can’t allow a team like the Magic to lead in either category. While it’s debatable, tonight is going to be one of the few nights where the Lakers will have a talent advantage, but turnovers and the allowance of offensive rebounds can level the playing field and make this game a lot tougher on them as possible.
If the Lakers can commit to playing inside out against a team that doesn’t have much size to offer, the Lakers can pull to .500 on the Grammy trip with an opportunity to finish it with a winning record in New York on Sunday.
Where to watch
TV: Time Warner Cable SportsNet at 4 p.m. PST
Radio: ESPN Radio 710AM