3/7 Pregame- Los Angeles Lakers vs. Orlando Magic

Jordan Hunter

Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers (28–35) limp into a matchup against the hapless Orlando Magic (20–44). The Magic, armed with talented young upstarts, came into the season with playoff aspirations. Aaron Gordon was expected to make the next step into stardom. Yet again, the Magic sit in the cellar of the Eastern Conference.

After an impressive 8–4 start, including wins over Cleveland and San Antonio, the team has experienced a free fall in classic Magic fashion. They have four losing streaks of at least seven games. Since November 10, Orlando’s longest win streak stands at three games. For the sixth year in a row, the Magic can look forward to the NBA lottery rather than the playoffs. Ever since Dwight Howard left back in 2012, they have been in rebuild mode with no clear answers in sight.

The last time these two teams met, Orlando walked away with an 18-point home victory. That was without the services of top scorers Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon. Expect to see a different result or at least a more competitive outcome as the new-look Lakers have been red-hot in the last month and a half, having won 17 of their last 25 games and already surpassing last season’s win total with 19 games remaining in the season.

Some of the Lakers’ recent success can be pointed to the dominant play of Julius Randle. He has been a complete beast, averaging 20.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game since the All-Star break. Randle, who began much of the season coming off the bench, is proving that he deserves to be in the starting lineup and perhaps a new contract this summer. His game is still somewhat one-dimensional and some real post moves are necessary for him to elevate his game.

Lonzo Ball is just starting to get back into the groove of things after missing 16 games with a sore left knee. His shot is starting to look a lot more natural and he is picking up where he left in terms of his shooting and three-point percentage.

The Isaiah Thomas experiment has yielded mixed results. He looks unnatural coming off the bench but is still showcasing his scoring ability in the 25 to 30 minutes he is seeing per game. His play this season with the Cavaliers and Lakers compared to his MVP-level play make you wonder whether last season was a fluke.

The Lakers will continue to be without the services of Brandon Ingram who remains out with a groin strain. His earliest possible date to return is this Sunday when the Cleveland Cavaliers come into town. Upon comeback, Ingram needs to end the season strong and prove that he was truly worth the №2 overall pick back in 2016.

The Lakers will also be without Josh Hart, who fractured his left hand in practice last week. He has a chance to return before the season ends, but the team has no desire to hurry him back.

“It’s one of those things, obviously there’s zero rush to bring him back,” Walton told ESPN last Thursday after hearing that Hart would require surgery. “But if he’s healthy and ready to play and we’ve got a couple of weeks left [in the season], then yeah we’ll get him back on the court.”

The team is coming off a devastating loss to the Trail Blazers where Damian Lillard exploded for 19 points in the 4th quarter. The Lakers looked like they had the win in the bag but late game mistakes and Lillard deciding to go completely insane from three-point land stopped Los Angeles’ winning streak at five games.

After Wednesday’s tilt with the Magic, Los Angeles will travel to Denver on Friday to take on the Nuggets and then return home Sunday against Cleveland where they welcome King James and former Lakers Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance.

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