Records: Lakers 32-7, Magic 12-27
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.1 (4th), Magic 105.1 (26th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.4 (3rd), Magic 105.1 (5th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee
Magic: Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Khem Birch, Nikola Vucevic
Injuries: Lakers: Anthony Davis (out), Rajon Rondo (out); Magic: Jonathan Isaac (out), Al Farouq Aminu (out), Aaron Gordon (questionable), DJ Augustin (doubtful), Michael Carter-Williams (questionable)
The Lakers coming in: A convincing win over the Cavs on Monday has the Lakers winning streak at 9 games now. The last 4 wins, in particular, have all been impressive — beyond blowing out the Cavs, they Lakers also blew out the Knicks, and then beat both the Mavs and the Thunder on the road while missing Anthony Davis in both games and LeBron/Danny Green in the OKC win.
With tonight’s game vs. the Magic the last game before the Lakers head out on their “Grammy” road trip that includes matchups vs. the Rockets, Celtics, and 76ers the Lakers finding their stride again is a welcome turn of events.
On the injury front, Frank Vogel announced today that AD will not play and that comes on the heels of Rondo being ruled out yesterday. The hope is that AD can get in some practice time on Friday before the road trip, but that still remains to be seen.
The Magic coming in: Orlando is currently 7th in the East and have a neutral net rating, but as we discussed the last time these teams played, they were surely hoping for better this season. Injuries have thrown them off track some this season, with Vucevic missing time earlier this year and now Johnathan Isaac out for a few weeks with a knee injury. As you can see from the injury report at the top of this page, they’ll be shorthanded beyond Isaac, with a real possibility Gordon, Augustin, and Aminu all sit with various ailments.
The Magic have won 5 of their 7 games since the turn of the calendar year, though, and just beat the Kings in Sacramento on Monday. They continue to get some good performances from former #1 overall pick Markelle Fultz and with Vuc and Fournier also putting up good numbers, they’re a team that needs to be taken seriously. Also of note is that the Magic are up to 5th in defensive rating on the season, a trademark of Steve Clifford coached teams.
Overall, then, the Magic are playing well of late by showing they have enough offense to stay in games and a tough defense that can make life hard on opponents.
Keys to the game: With AD and Rondo out, the plan is pretty simple. Try to get a great LeBron game, get some scoring punch from Kuzma, and get enough contributions from 3-4 role players, on both sides of the ball, to try to cobble together enough production to win the game. It’s a simple formula, but the Magic could make it hard even with their injuries.
Defensively, the Lakers will need to pay particular attention to the Vuc/Fournier duo and how they can work with and off each other to cause problems. Vucevic missed the game in Orlando, but with him back tonight the Lakers will need to track him out to and beyond 3 point line — especially in pick and pop situations. For the season he takes 4.6 attempts a game from out there and has a connect rate of 35.6%. That’s a strong percentage for a true C and the Lakers bigs cannot get caught up closing out short to him and surrendering open shots.
As for Fournier, he can be a 3-level scorer even if his primary work will be done coming off screens as a shooter. You cannot go under picks on him, so he can often turn the corner in both on and off-ball situations to get into the lane where he can finish on short pull ups, floaters, and even get to the rim and for layups. The Lakers, then, will be put in the unenviable position of having to guard Fournier with drop coverage in the screen game and recover to Vuc who can space to the 3-point line. There are ways to disrupt these actions — there’s a reason Orlando is 26th in offense this year — but those make for long rotations and the team will need to be sharp in executing.
If I’m looking for one player to really show up this game it’s probably Kyle Kuzma. I’m hopeful he can get handful of P&R possessions as a ball handler this game, not only because he needs the reps, but because when he gets downhill for floaters and runners, it can activate his outside shooting game. Kuz really is a “score in bunches” type of player and anything that gets him going can have a compounding effect on his production. In other words, a 9-16 shooting night for 23 points w/ a couple of made 3’s would be glorious and would go a long way towards securing a victory in this one.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.
*All stats via stats.nba.com