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Lakers survive gritty game against Magic, win second straight

At the moment, there is no one star of the Lakers. When a win is needed, they’ll fall short if they don’t do it together.

Dennis Schröder did it at the line. Montrezl Harrell and Markieff Morris did it on the glass. Kyle Kuzma put a little work in everywhere, but most dramatically galloping out in transition.

So in a fourth quarter when their backs appeared to be against a wall, the Lakers (30-17) found a way in a gritty 96-93 victory Sunday over the Orlando Magic (15-31). It was the essence of a win cobbled together of at times awkwardly fitting parts, but with an ugly injury situation, the Lakers aren’t in any position to make every win pretty.

It was the second game the Lakers won without LeBron James or Anthony Davis, and it came on the same day the team announced Andre Drummond — who coach Frank Vogel called “one of the best centers in the league — was preparing to join its ranks. But without any of those past or present All-Stars, the Lakers had to resort to the kind of triage that has defined the last week since James hurt his ankle.

Schröder led the Lakers with 24 points, while Harrell added 18. Kuzma had 21 points, but added 11 rebounds and 4 assists to boot.

It was grim even to the finish. The Lakers’ lead was just three points with 30 seconds remaining and the ball in their hands. Schröder missed a lay-up at the rim, then Morris missed a wide-open 3-pointer.

“I wanted that one at the top like Robert Horry,” Morris said, “but I missed it.”

Kuzma nearly got the ball back but stepped on the boundary before saving it with 5.3 seconds left.

The defense just barely made it out that long, as Wesley Matthews appeared to turn his ankle while staying in front of Otto Porter Jr. who had a decent look from the top of the arc for a potential overtime. But it was off target, and as Porter grimaced in frustration, the Lakers exhaled with relief.

The misses at the finish were in line with shooting for the evening: Both teams shot poorly, with the Lakers making just 41.5 percent and the Magic below that mark at 38.6 percent.

“We executed well and got high shot quality,” Vogel laughed. “Couldn’t throw it in the ocean.”

Schröder helped create an edge at the free throw line, going 9 for 10 at the stripe to lead a 17 for 23 effort there.

Morris showed hustle in a key sequence to help the Lakers get back on top after they trailed by five midway in the fourth quarter: After Schröder missed the second of two free throw attempts, Morris muscled in for the rebound and putback. On the ensuing defensive possession, he saved a ball from going out of bounds, kick-starting a transition dunk for Kuzma to put the Lakers up by a point.

On the verge of being possibly replaced in the starting lineup by Drummond, Marc Gasol was rough out of the gates, hitting only two of his seven shots. While he had three assists in his playmaking role, it wasn’t enough to make much of a difference on a night where no one seemed to be hitting shots: The Lakers were outscored by 11 in his 20-minute stint.

Only three years removed from coaching the Magic, it was telling that Frank Vogel looked at the roster and saw hardly a familiar face. Orlando blew up its semi-competitive group at the trade deadline, dealing Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon for mostly prospects, draft picks and scrap.

But there was some shine to what the Magic got back in those deals, which especially showed in the second half as Orlando’s offense picked up: R.J. Hampton and Otto Porter, both making their Orlando debuts after being traded from Denver and Chicago respectively, were pivotal during the 30-point third quarter where the Magic made their best push.

Dwayne Bacon was an offensive sparkplug throughout the night for the Magic, piling up 26 points on the evening by hustling out in transition and knocking down midrange attempts.

The games the Lakers have played so far without James or Davis have been mud fights, hardly confidence-builders that lead into an oppressive stretch of schedule. They have a Wednesday game hosting the Milwaukee Bucks, then kick off their second seven-game road-trip of the season (one game will be at Staples Center against the Clippers). While they’ve so far avoided serious slippage in the standings, it could be the stint that could cost them ground come May when the playoffs begin.

At least one Laker has been adamant that whoever is in or out doesn’t change expectations, however.

“We’re not playing for just holding on or just trying to get by while Bron and AD is out,” Harrell said. “No. We get paid to do the same exact job. We’re coming out here to compete.”

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