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Lakers vs. Magic Preview: Losing hold of the rope

The Lakers are reeling and on the brink of losing the season as they continue their five-game road trip in Orlando against the Magic.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers are in a very precarious situation this season despite the calendar not having yet turned to 2023. An untimely injury to Anthony Davis — though not to suggest that any injury to him this year would have been convenient — at a favorable moment on the schedule has left the Lakers streaking in the wrong direction.

What was once seen as a moment in the year when the Lakers could make a run has turned into a moment in the season where the Lakers are losing their hold on the proverbial rope. And now, the team is on a five-game road trip needing to snap a four-game losing streak to save the season.

Christmas Day kicked off that road trip in Dallas before the Lakers head to the southeast part of the country, continuing the trip on Tuesday in Orlando. It’s an area that has been fruitful in the past as the team has won two titles in the city — “The Bubble” ring in 2020 and the 2009 ring — and one that could be a place where the team stops their current slide.

But it comes against a Magic side that is on the opposite spectrum of the Lakers right now. Following a slow start that saw them sitting at 5-20, Orlando has hit its stride and won eight of their last nine. While it’s been a pretty favorable stretch of games, they did beat the Hawks and Celtics twice across a three-game span.

Over those nine games, the Magic rank in the top six in offensive rating, defensive rating and net rating. They’ve excelled as one of the best rebounding teams in that span as they’ve leaned on their talented young front court.

Over the last nine games, Paolo Banchero is averaging 21.8 points per game while Franz Wagner is right behind him at 21.3 points per contest. Former Laker Mo Wagner is just behind them at 15 points and 7.1 rebounds while shooting 50% from the field.

For a Lakers team that has trended toward playing more and more small ball, this game likely won’t be one they can get away with that too much. On the flip side, LeBron James loves nothing more than to step up to the challenge against the next generation of players — and considering Banchero’s status as the likely Rookie of the Year frontrunner, there could be a big LeBron game on deck.

The Magic also represent potential trade partners to the Lakers with a pair of players linked to them. Mo Bamba could help solve some of the Lakers issues at the center position as well as a shooter. In that nine-game span, he’s shooting 46.2% from three on just under three attempts per game.

Terrance Ross has been perpetually linked to the Lakers but has been one of the few Magic players to not excel over the last few weeks. He’s averaging just 7.9 points per game this season while shooting 35.4% from range.

For a variety of reasons, then, this game is an intriguing one for the Lakers. Most importantly, though, if they want to have any shot at being competitive at the end of the season, the losing streak has to stop very, very soon.

Injury Report

  • LeBron James (left ankle soreness) and Dennis Schröder (left foot soreness) are both probable for the Lakers. Anthony Davis (right foot stress injury) and Juan Toscano-Anderson (right ankle sprain) are out.
  • The Magic are at near full strength, though Jalen Suggs (right ankle soreness), Jonathan Isaac (left knee injury recovery) and Chuma Okeke (left knee surgery) are all out.

With the Lakers being on the opposite coast, tip-off for this game will be an early one at 4 p.m. PT. The contest will be televised on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.

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