The Magic began the season 17-4 but with the loss last night to the Lakers they are just 9-11 since that hot start. The Lakers beat the Magic 98-92 in their first matchup since the Lakers won Game 5 of the NBA Finals on June 14. It was a combination of the Lakers bench play and Dwight Howard going MIA that led to the Lakers victory.
In the first half, Howard came out hot. He was getting the ball deep in the post and converting. He had 12 field goal attempts in the half, well above his average for an entire game of just over nine. He made nine of 12 shots for 18 points and was the reason the Magic were only down five at the half.
But the Magic are a streaky team and they heated up in the second half while the Lakers went ice cold. The Magic went on a 20-2 run in the third quarter to take a 67-58 lead. During the stretch they hit four three-pointers and almost exclusive relied on outside jumpers. But as many coaches have said, the three-pointer is fool's gold and that was the case for the Magic. They missed their next seven three-pointers as the Lakers made a run of their own.
The Lakers went on a 21-1 run that spanned the end of the third until about halfway through the fourth quarter to take a 79-68 lead. This run was not what you'd expect from the Lakers this year. 19 of those 21 points came from bench players as the Lakers second unit provided the type of spark they did last season. Lamar Odom had nine and 16 rebounds, Jordan Farmar added 11, and Shannon Brown had a career-high 22 points on just 12 shots. The entire bench had just one turnover while getting four steals. It's one thing for the bench to score 42 points in a blowout against the Clippers, it's quite another for them to match that total against the defending Eastern Conference champions in a relatively tight game.
The bench scoring was also absolutely necessary with the type of game Kobe Bryant had. Bryant went four for 19 from the field for just 11 points. He is averaging under 16 points per game over the last five contests.
But the biggest question of the game was - what were the Magic thinking? Dwight Howard had 18 points in the first half and had 12 field goal attempts. In the second half he had just two field goal attempts and scored just six points. How do they not get him the ball? Howard is one of the best players in the game and the best player on the Magic. Can you imagine Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant getting just two shot attempts in a half? They have to stop relying on the three-point game and use their most dangerous weapon.
Howard showed he could do more than just dunk in the first half. He had a couple hook shots and also made two midrange jump shots using the glass. His disappearance is inexcusable. If Howard isn't going to demand the ball, Stan Van Gundy needs to order his guards to get it to him. Until they get him more involved and quit relying on the three-ball they're going to be too inconsistent to vie for a championship.