It wasn’t always pretty, but the Lakers bounced back after being down by eight at halftime, outscoring the Orlando Magic by 19 in the second half of a 116-105 win over one of the NBA’s worst teams to kick off their annual Grammy road trip.
LeBron James took advantage of Orlando’s porous paint defense — the Magic gave up the first 50-point performance of Joel Embiid’s career in their previous game — doing most of his damage around the rim in a 29-point performance, his 16th straight game leading the Lakers in scoring and 16th game in a row in which he scored 25 or more.
And in a miraculous turn of events, Russell Westbrook had a decent shooting night from the field, finishing 8-17 with 18 points, as well as 11 rebounds and 7 assists. He did have some Russ-esque ugly stretches, including one extremely bad miss where his shot hit the top of the backboard in the first quarter, but was overall a positive tonight, a solid start to his recent pledge to be better.
Carmelo Anthony also finally rediscovered his three-point shooting stroke, knocking down 4 triples and providing some much-needed effort off the bench. He finished with 23 points, his most since Dec. 28 at Houston. Stanley Johnson and Malik Monk also had double-digit scoring nights with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Additionally, Trevor Ariza looked as comfortable as he has in his limited time on the court during his second Lakers stint, finishing a team-high +20.
It was a back-and-forth affair for much of the first half, but the game looked like it would get very ugly very fast when the Magic closed the second quarter on an 18-5 run to take an eight-point lead at the intermission. But in a stretch similar to when these two teams faced off in L.A. last month, the Lakers responded with a 17-2 run of their own coming out of halftime as Orlando did not even make a shot from the field for the first six-and-a-half minutes of the third frame.
The Lakers came into this one reeling from some mixed results with the small-ball approach in recent games, due partially to the fact that the Lakers haven’t been totally committed to it, and there have been multiple reports that the team’s front office — and one former Lakers forward in particular — has been pressuring the coaching staff to use more traditional lineups featuring the hollow shells of DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard. Though Howard started his third straight game on Saturday, he sat for most of the second half and the Lakers’ offense hummed behind LeBron-at-center lineups once again.
After improbably surviving the Lakers’ ugly Thursday night loss at home to the Pacers, Frank Vogel’s job appears relatively secure for the moment following this win over another one of his former teams.
The Lakers will next head south to Miami and attempt to sweep the season series against the Heat, the team they beat in those 2020 NBA finals in the Orlando bubble. Tip-off is schedule for 4 p.m. PST on Spectrum Sportsnet and NBA TV. We’ll see whether their 2020 NBA Champion head coach sticks around for that one, but this win almost assuredly increased his odds.