As of late, the Los Angeles Lakers have not been taking care of business.
First off, let’s check out the standings:
Lakers fans don’t want to hear this but their last two games have been disastrous. Wednesday saw them lose against one of the worst teams in the NBA in the Houston Rockets. And then on Friday, they lost to the Dallas Mavericks (who were missing Luka Doncic) at the buzzer. If they won those games, the Lakers would be in the 6th spot at this moment (they’d be tied for 5th if they beat the Pacers since that ended similarly to the Mavericks game… okay, I’ll stop).
But they’re not. And going into Sunday night’s game, they are 11th and out of the play-in picture altogether instead of having to worry about keeping an outright playoff spot. I can’t even say that it’s fortunate that they’re going against a sub-.500 team because we know that with these Lakers, there are absolutely no guarantees.
So the good news? They draw the Orlando Magic. And they had a Saturday matinee so they might be a little fatigued. But they did beat the Clippers on that matinee so they do have a little bit of momentum going into their game against the Lakers.
We all know that the Orlando Magic have Paolo Banchero, who is likely going to win Rookie of the Year. His averages stand at 20.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. But against the Lakers on December 27th? Banchero found himself in foul trouble for most of the game and scored a season-low four points. I’d be shocked if Banchero is limited to single digits again but at the very least, this will be in his mind.
Markelle Fultz’s early years in the league have been well-documented. But in his last two games, he’s averaged 26.5 points (25 against Phoenix and then a career-best 28 in that game against the Clippers). So look for him to be aggressive in this game. He scored a team-high 16 points against the Lakers last December.
The Magic have the Wagner brothers (Franz and Mo) and they will cause trouble in different ways. Franz is the ever-improving scorer (18.7 points per) while Mo does the dirty work (11.0 points per game). Wendell Carter, Jr. takes care of things in the middle (he had 27 points and 12 boards against the Clippers). And they have a unicorn in Bol Bol and a spitfire bench player in Cole Anthony.
Orlando traded Mo Bamba to the Lakers before the trading deadline but they are still ridiculously lengthy. And with the lack of bigs, the Lakers might have trouble with that. That’s been a talking point all season but that length didn’t bother the Lakers much last December. We’ll see how the Lakers deal with that.
More importantly, we want to see how the Lakers come out of the gates. Focus has been a big problem the last couple of games. What we want is how they were a devastating unit against the Pelicans last Tuesday. Yes, they made a franchise-record 15 threes in that first half but the Lakers were springy, enthusiastic, and energized. We don’t want a Lakers team that look like they would rather be anywhere else. I’m not saying the stats and match-ups aren’t important but the energy is what they really need. And if their energy is at 100, everything should take care of themselves.
The Lakers are lucky that other West teams are losing, too. Portland has faded badly and lost five straight. The Wolves and Warriors are each on a three-game skid. The Pelicans have lost two straight.
But time, luck, and opportunities are running out. Here’s yet another one right in front of the Lakers. They know what to do. Now they need to actually execute it.