Every time the Lakers got a surprising distance in the last minutes, the Orlando Magic had an answer.
When Quinn Cook made a three-point basket to reduce the Lakers’ deficit to a point with approximately one minute remaining, Orlando center Nikola Vucevic tripled to respond. When a JaVale McGee dump reduced the Lakers deficit to two points, Markelle Fultz responded with a driving tray.
Over the past week, the Lakers had been beating outdated opponents who couldn’t beat a team without Anthony Davis. On Wednesday, his career finally ended. The Magic won 119-118, giving the Lakers only their eighth loss and first to a team with a losing record. The magic improved to 20-21.
“Every loss bothers us, regardless of whether it is a bad team or a good team,” Danny Green said. “Especially when you feel that you are one of the best teams in the league and where you want to be at the end of the season. You want to be perfect or be close to him.”
Orlando was led by Fultz, who finished with 21 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds.
LeBron James finished with 19 points and tied his career record with 19 assists. His final assistance came in the final bell in a Cook basket, whose 22 highest points of the season led the game. The Lakers scored 14 points from McGee, 17 from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Troy Daniels, and 11 from Green. In total, the Lakers obtained 68 points from their banks.
“The bank is the reason there was a game at the end,” James said. “They just arrived and produced everything we needed.”
Davis lost his fourth consecutive game due to a bruised major gluteus. The Lakers were also without Rajon Rondo, whose right ring finger was recorded after having suffered a fracture on Saturday in Oklahoma City.
The Lakers used a constant McGee diet in the first quarter, and the center had eight points in less than four minutes. James only made one shot and did not score in the nine minutes he played in the first quarter.
“He was clearly trying to involve his teammates,” coach Frank Vogel said. “I was really making it easy for kids to open glances everywhere. He played the same way with Quinn and KCP and Troy [when they] they were there. Those guys were making shots. “
While the Lakers worked to minimize their deficit at halftime, they made two moves to change momentum. First, Terrence Ross finished and rose for what he hoped was a clamorous thunder over McGee. Instead, McGee blocked the shot.
“That’s one of the biggest dump attempts I’ve seen in my life,” said James.
Moments later, Daniels made a triple and took a foul. He made the resulting free kick for a four-point play, and the Lakers entered the halftime losing 65-58.
After halftime, the Lakers lost another key player. Alex Caruso, who received a blow to the face in the first trimester, received a concussion test that was inconclusive. He sat the rest of the game.
Orlando made an effort to extend its advantage, even building it up to 21 points at the beginning of the third quarter. But the Lakers closed the quarter with a 22-2 run to reduce the deficit to one point.
Cook, pushed to a more important role due to Rondo and Caruso’s injuries, opened the way. He scored the last seven points of the Lakers in the period, finishing with 13 to three quarters.
The Lakers fought for every point they won, with players like Jared Dudley diving to save a loose ball, and Caldwell-Pope taking a charge. They helped energize the Lakers, but they fell short.
“Our team is very deep and when someone is perhaps not playing particularly well, we have the ability to go to the boys from the bank,” James said. “As I said, without everyone out of the bank tonight we would have run out of breath. Very proud of those guys who come and just enjoy the opportunity.”