On Sunday, the Lakers beat the Warriors by 17. On Monday, the Warriors beat the Magic by 6. So, today, the Lakers should beat the Magic by 23. That’s how this works, right?
That is not how it works, no.
But the Lakers do have the rest advantage with the Magic playing on the 2nd night of a back to back and coming off a Warriors game which was closer than expected down the stretch. Combine those factors with the Lakers’ young players doing well of late and this contest offers a rare chance for the Lakers to win two games in a row.
What further hurts the Magic’s chances is the health of Nikola Vucevic. The big man is nursing a sore groin and is questionable for tonight’s game. In the first match up between these two teams, Vucci Mane scored 18 points off the bench, including an 18 foot turnaround jumper in the face of Roy Hibbert to win the game at the buzzer.
If Vuc doesn’t play, losing his offense hurts but it really just shifts the offensive burden to other players. Against the Warriors on Monday, four Magic scored at least 19 points and it’s that type of diversified scoring which can give the Lakers issues. The Magic have several wing threats — Evan Fournier, Victor Oladipo, Brandon Jennings — who can all get hot. They also have dunk competition runner up Aaron Gordon, who has a nice offensive skill set beyond just yamming on opponent’s heads.
This group of players offers a great set of matchups for the Lakers young guys, too. Russell, Clarkson, Randle, and Nance will all get to see counterparts who offer similarly explosive games and provide challenges on both ends of the floor. In fact, it’s these matchups which will likely determine the outcome of the game. If the Magic’s young guys are able to play as well tonight as they did in Golden State on Monday, the Lakers are in trouble.
Moving away from the young guys, what we do not know is whether Kobe will play. Byron Scott said there’s a 50/50 chance Kobe suits up, but that gives us little to go on. Kobe has said he would like to play in all the team’s remaining games, but also acknowledges that would be a longshot. His shoulder is clearly aching and, if what we saw in the Warriors game is any indication, even if he does play he will mostly be an off-ball worker who does not try to extend himself too much.
Lastly, one player who I have not mentioned but am interested in seeing more of his Marcelo Huertas. The rookie (in name only) point guard has been playing good offensive basketball since filling in for the injured Lou Williams, bringing a dimension to the team’s 2nd unit the former 6th Man of the Year does not possess. While Lou offers points in bunches, Huertas has been setting up his teammates wonderfully and running the offense in ways Williams has not been. I hope to see more good passing from Huertas and, hopefully, have some of his want of passing rub off on some of his mates, encouraging more ball movement in the process.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.