Coming off one of their better wins of the season against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Los Angeles Lakers will put their four-game winning streak to the test against the young but surprising Orlando Magic. If the playoffs started today, but the Lakers and Magic would make the cut.
Orlando currently sits at 7-6 with wins against the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers can’t look past this game to their upcoming bouts with LeBron James’ former teams — the Miami Heat Sunday and the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday.
To the Lakers’ credit, though, they’ve taken care of business (albeit at times in ugly fashion) against teams typically deemed inferior. They have yet to lose to a team they were favored by at least 3 points against (signifying that they were seen as the objectively better team). A couple of those wins were somewhat disappointing given how close they were, but wins are wins at this point of the season.
Saturday will mark the first game of Rajon Rondo’s month-long absence. Lonzo Ball has been playing better of late, but the Lakers cannot afford for him to float through any of the games Rondo misses. While Rondo was healthy, if Ball didn’t have it, Luke Walton could put in his veteran option. Ball has been better lately, but if he isn’t impactful, there just aren’t enough options on the roster to make up for that.
On the flip-side, though, this does mean Ball will have a clearer path to opportunities in clutch situations. How he fares in those over the next month or so will have ramifications potentially extending throughout the season. Saturday in Orlando might offer his first test to earn bigger late-game opportunities.
Orlando does present some interesting matchup issues for the Lakers. In the frontcourt, Nikola Vucevic and Mo Bamba are big enough to give the Lakers problems if either JaVale McGee or Tyson Chandler get into foul trouble. We might even get a Timofey Mozgov revenge game!**
The Lakers should probably win this one, but you just never know given the Rondo injury and the Lakers’ up-and-down defense. Tipoff for the game will be 4:00 PM PST and can be seen on Spectrum SportsNet.
**(Note: We will almost definitely not get a Timofey Mozgov revenge game)