ORLANDO, Fla. — It looked like a blowout. It probably could have been one.
But the Lakers have held their foot on the gas for so long to start this season, maybe it felt like letting up a little was OK.
The Lakers have more often been slow starters than slow finishers, but on Wednesday, they allowed a 24-point second-quarter lead to evaporate to nothing by the fourth against a rangy, gritty Magic team short on experience but long in the tooth.
That meant a harder-than-expected start to their five-game trip in a 96-87 win that gave the Lakers (22-3) their 12th straight road victory, but also a gut check. It was the kind of win that is simultaneously a reminder of the Lakers’ flaws – though they are still leading the Western Conference, they aren’t untouchable.
James got his sixth triple-double of the season (25 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists), garnering loud “M-V-P” chants in yet another road arena that fawned over him. But when Mo Bamba blocked one of his shots in the middle of the fourth quarter, it was a reminder that the actual team on the court wasn’t about to let James blow by.
Lakers co-star Anthony Davis, who scored 50 points in the Lakers’ 142-125 victory against Minnesota on Sunday, had a more difficult offensive game than usual, shooting just 6 for 20 against the persistent defense of Jonathan Isaac for 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was a critical scorer in the rotation in a game when the Lakers didn’t play either Kyle Kuzma (ankle sprain) or Rajon Rondo (hamstring soreness). Caldwell-Pope scored 15 points, including four 3-pointers.
A fourth-quarter scrap briefly interrupted the action after a foul call for Dwight Howard, who faced another challenging game in the city he once called home. Howard appeared to shove Mo Bamba after the foul as he walked out of the paint, prompting Magic forward Wes Iwundu to charge toward him. Jared Dudley reciprocated for the Lakers by jumping in the fray. Both Iwundu and Dudley were ejected, while Howard and Michael Carter-Williams received technical fouls.
At 22-3, this is the Lakers’ best start to a season since 1985-86.
More to come on this story.
"I'm happy about the win… but I'm not satisfied with the way we played. We have to be a lot better."@KingJames (25 PTS, 11 REB, 10 AST) talks post-game with @RealAClifton about the #Lakers relying on their defense in tonight's win over Orlando. pic.twitter.com/Wh4yqhwdXt
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) December 12, 2019