LOS ANGELES — A night before in the shadow of one of his teammates, Quinn Cook had been bathing in relative anonymity.
He was one of two Lakers teammates who came out to a Tuesday event in downtown Los Angeles for Anthony Davis’ partnership with a snack food company. At 6-foot-1, the unassuming Cook mostly blended in with guests – attempting rainbow fadeaways on pop-a-shot baskets between sips of water.
Many in the crowd didn’t seem to recognize a Laker was in their midst. After Wednesday night, he might get more than a second glance.
It was Cook, and a number of the Lakers reserves who average the fewest minutes, who helped power them back into the game against the Orlando Magic at Staples Center on another night without Davis (bruised backside) in uniform. But a chance to tie the score with five seconds left eluded their grasp, as a 3-point attempt by LeBron James (19 points, 19 assists) rimmed out and the Magic got the rebound and Aaron Gordon made a clinching free throw.
Cook made the last shot of the night, a 3-pointer with just 0.4 seconds left, but it was not enough to keep the Lakers from losing 119-118. It was their first loss this season to a team with a sub-.500 record after starting out 22-0 against such competition.
It was the reserves who made the most of the night: Cook, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Troy Daniels combined for 56 points, giving credence to the Lakers’ pride in their depth.
A 22-2 run to end the third quarter brought the Lakers back from the brink of oblivion. Twice, they trailed by at least 20 points. With an 87-66 deficit looming over them, a lineup powered by bench shooting got into the thick of things.
A string of hustle plays got the crowd to buy into the hope that the comeback might be completed: Caldwell-Pope took a charge, Dwight Howard took out Wes Iwundu one-on-one, and Jared Dudley dove for a tough loose ball. The energy transferred into the audience as the game got closer.
Cook shined the brightest at the end of the third, making three consecutive shots to bring the Lakers to within one point at the end of the third quarter. He and LeBron James were also prominent at the finish, hitting two late 3-pointers that got the Lakers within 111-110.
But defensive miscues cost the Lakers late: Nikola Vucevic hit a 3-pointer, then Markelle Fultz hit back-to-back shots by driving into the paint. Neither player had been available for the Lakers’ win over the Magic in December, and both took their vengeance combining for 40 points. Fultz managed his second career triple-double (21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists).
After humming for the last three games without Davis, the Lakers’ offense hit a wall against the long limbs of Orlando. Vying against one of the most athletic rosters in the league, the Lakers’ leading scorers looked rusty.
It was almost enough to rob the crowd of its collective breath in the fourth quarter when James, one of the NBA’s most emphatic dunkers for his entire career, came up short on a slam attempt straight into the rim.
It was that kind of night for the Lakers’ top available scorers. Even as James piled up a season-best in assists, his own shot was hit-or-miss (7 for 19). One of his biggest came in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers finally took their first lead of the second half on a 3-pointer.
Kyle Kuzma, who had enjoyed a run of strong games starting for Davis, had a shooting rut as well, just 2 for 10 from the floor and sitting out the closing minutes.
A comeback wouldn’t have been possible without strong minutes from centers: Howard (nine points, 16 rebounds) was on the floor for the entirety of the 22-2 run in the third quarter, muscling around Vucevic in the post. JaVale McGee was 6 for 6 from the floor and had three blocked shots – including a dazzling rejection of Terrence Ross that was one of the most impressive blocks of the season.
It was the first game the Lakers had lost in the four since Davis was sidelined. The Lakers kick off a five-game trip Saturday in Houston.
A perilous few weeks on the injury front for the Lakers got a little worse: Alex Caruso took an elbow to the jaw from Magic center Mo Bamba at the end of the first quarter. After an inconclusive concussion evaluation, the Lakers held out Caruso for the remainder of the game, expecting a follow-up evaluation on Thursday.
More to come on this story.
RIM PROTECTOR JAVALE!
— NBA (@NBA) January 16, 2020