It was always going to be tough to get anything out of Florida. With one of the best teams in the league in the Miami Heat last night, and a very good Orlando Magic team tonight, a victory in either game would have been reason to celebrate. In order for positives to be taken from this short little two game road trip, a few things had to go right. Nothing did.
The trouble isn't that the Lakers lost. The trouble is that the Lakers lost in such a way as to make you believe they could have been given many, many chances without tasting success. Through all the highs and lows this team has gone through in the past few seasons, they have rarely been outclassed so thoroughly as they have in the past 48 hours. The most apt analogy I can think of for the Lakers is that of a fancy, expensive entertainment system. They've got the great 3D-TV, awesome surround sound speakers, and an amazing Wi-Fi Blu-Ray player ... all the items that draw your attention and make you think you've got a great product. But then you start trying to piece together the framework for all that awesome stuff to stand on, and you find out the wood's actually cardboard, you've got all the wrong screw sizes, and the instructions are in Swahili.
The Lakers have decent talent, if only because the top of their roster remains on par with just about anybody in the league. But the rest of the team is so shabby that you'd send the whole thing back to the store if you could.
This is important because the Lakers got a first hand glimpse of the other side of the equation tonight. On a pure talent equivalence, I'm not sure the Orlando Magic have more than the Lakers do. Dwight Howard is an amazing player, probably the most productive and important player on either team, but Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are all miles better than anybody else on Orlando's roster. There's no second player in pinstripes that makes you think "I'd really love to have that guy on my team". But, whereas the Lakers seem completely incapable of being better than the sum of their parts, the Magic clearly fit together seamlessly.
As is their MO, Orlando scored more than 1/3 of their points from the three point line, with all four non-Howard starters hitting at least two threes and shooting above 40% on the night (only Jason Richardson failed to reach 50% shooting from distance). The Lakers shot 30% from three point range against the Magic's 44% ... and this was a good night for the Lakers from the outside. The only guys on the Lakers roster who can drain an outside shot are the team's biggest defensive liabilities ... Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono might be able to keep defenses honest, but they cause more problems than they solve. Metta World Peace played only 8 minutes on a night in which neither Matt Barnes nor Kapono were doing anything noteworthy. Darius Morris is getting 15 minutes a game in Steve Blake's absence and quickly quieting all those folks who thought he should be pushing Derek Fisher for playing time ... you look at this roster and can't help but think there are no good answers to be found.
On a night that was billed as a possible audition for pretty much every player on the court besides Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard was able to show that he might just be worth Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. He certainly provided more than both Lakers did combined. By putting Bynum in early foul trouble, Howard guaranteed that the Lakers wouldn't be able to take advantage of which ever big wasn't his defensive responsibility. Bynum probably failed to impress the Orlando front office, but that doesn't matter, because any Bynum for Howard trade was never going to be about getting equal value, but about taking something instead of ending up with nothing. But the biggest potential outcome of tonight's rag tag purple and gold effort? If I'm Dwight Howard, I might be having some serious reservations about joining the Lakers. Sure, playing with Kobe Bryant would probably be pretty awesome. Running with Pau Gasol (or whichever decent players come in with his departure) sounds like a good time. But, if you switched Howard for Bynum straight up, the Lakers still wouldn't be a soundly constructed team. You can't help but watch a game like this and think about what I said weeks ago.
If the Lakers trade for Dwight Howard, they will simply be a better version of themselves. Seeing the way this team plays on a daily basis, that sure doesn't seem like it would be good enough.