Showtime: 4:00pm PT
Plot: As "great" as the previous two losses have been--either for those of you that openly implore the team to lose as many games as possible or if you appreciate a solid effort no matter what the outcome--it's clear that these Lakers take no solace in moral victories. They play hard enough to win, but oftentimes will simply just not have the requisite talent to do so.
Versus Orlando, it seems like the Lakers might be as talented as their opposition, for once.
When the Show takes on the team with the second worst record in the NBA at Amway Arena later on tonight, they may be armed with slightly better basketball players for one of the few times this year. The Magic have been horrid once again, sputtering to a 11-32 record and going through an even tougher January than the Lakers (at 1-10). Still, even those stark numbers don't paint a picture of how truly terrible they've been: Orlando has surrendered less than 100 points just twice in 2014 and in their ten losses, has been pummeled by double digits seven of those times. Offensively, they've been just as bad, cracking 100 points themselves just three times, with one of those such contests going into overtime. As bad as it seems for Lakers fans everywhere, their season pales in comparison to the torture Orlando fans are embroiled in.
The key tonight will be to contain the Magic starting five to get into their putrid reserve corps and eventually win the game. Orlando's starters are actually quite competent, including borderline All-Star Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis, Jameer Nelson, Tobias Harris and Rookie of the Year candidate Victor Oladipo. However, their bench is a combination of useless veterans (Jason Maxiell, Kyle O'Quinn) and youngsters not ready for prime time duty (Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, E'Twaun Moore, Doron Lamb). Together, they form one of the worst offenses in the league and a sometimes decent defensive scheme that lacks shot blockers with Nikola Vucevic sidelined indefinitely with post-concussive symptoms.
It's a completely repetitive exercise, but I'll write it again for posterity: the Lakers must find a way to stop offensive rebounds going against them and lock down the opposing guards from going absolutely bonkers. Last night in Miami, the Lakers somewhat accomplished the latter, but were soundly outboarded by one of the worst rebounding squads in the NBA. Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo are both having very good seasons for their bottom-feeding squad and are primed to go for big numbers without the deterrent of any purple & gold paint protector. Pau Gasol will be key once again, as he'll need to continue to show All-Star worthy form against an Orlando front line that really shouldn't be able to hold him down at all.
Though this is on the tail end of a back-to-back set, this still should be a very winnable game for the Lakers. The Magic are in a tailspin and missing one of their best young players, while the Lakers have played extremely competitive basketball for the past week. LA has more than a fair shot here, unlike most nights, and should be wary to not forget that.
That is, if you're in the business of hoping for a Lakers win.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino