The Lakers were in Orlando on Tuesday night, meaning the return of Earl Clark against his former team. Oh, and Dwight Howard, too. With all the hoopla surrounding Howard’s return to Orlando for the first time since being traded last summer, this was quite the highly anticipated game. From the onslaught of media attention surrounding Howard’s return to the parody videos mocking Howard’s departure, it was relieving to finally get the game underway at the Amway Center.
All the Dwight nonsense aside, this was an important game for the Lakers, who once again were out of the playoff picture thanks to a Utah win over Detroit on Monday. Due to a tiebreaker, Los Angeles found themselves sitting in the ninth spot entering Tuesday night, making the game against the Magic that much more important.
With all the energy in the building anticipating Howard’s return, neither team started the game in remarkable fashion. Both sides were pressing a bit, but it was especially evident from Kobe Bryant. After hitting his first shot attempt, Bryant missed his next six. The bigger issue here was that Bryant was forcing outside jumpers that were well-contested, resulting in bad possessions for L.A.
Dwight, as usual, has rabbit ears on the bench. Hearing fans talking to him, he is responding. Just nodded, gave a smile and thumbs-up.
— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) March 12, 2013
When the Lakers did settle down a bit they managed to find a little more success. The highlight of the quarter came when Bryant hit Howard for a dunk, igniting the Lakers bench and (momentarily) silencing the crowd.
Still, the Magic played tough in the first period, and had a 23-22 lead at the end of the quarter.
After a slower start than the Lakers were hoping for, they picked things up in the second period. They managed to build a bit of a lead, distancing themselves from the Magic as the quarter progressed. One reason for the recent success the Lakers have found has been the performance of their bench, and that was key again in the second period on Tuesday. Steve Blake made several nice plays, running the facilitator role while Nash took a breather.
Another area of surprise for the Lakers in the first half was the offense of Metta World Peace. It’s no secret that World Peace has been struggling on offense for the majority of the season, so to get 13 points from him in the first half was a huge boost for Los Angeles. But the key on offense for the Lakers was Howard. It was no secret that he was fired up, and the Magic resorting to the Hack-A-Dwight strategy certainly gave him some opportunities to score.
The boost on offense from Howard and World Peace was crucial, as the team didn’t get much on the offensive end from Kobe Bryant in the first 24 minutes. Bryant, who struggled with his shot (1-7), scored just three points in the first half. Still, even without a big half from Kobe, the Lakers led the Magic at halftime, 50-46.
With a narrow lead heading into the second half, the Lakers were hoping to build on that and get a more comfortable cushion heading into the fourth. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, Orlando had other plans. With Kobe’s continued struggles on the offensive end and turnovers plaguing the Lakers offense (again), Orlando came back and took their first lead since the first shot of the second quarter halfway through the third period.
The Lakers were hoping a Kobe breakaway layup would get him going offensively, but in non-Kobe fashion, he almost seemed to lose confidence in his shot. On several occasions he went up to shoot, only to change his mind and attempt to pass.
Orlando showing Kobe the 2nd defender quickly tonight. If he’s going to be a scorer at all, needs to make catches on the move & to the rim.
— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) March 13, 2013
After Orlando took the lead the Lakers regrouped and climbed back on top. Two triples from Earl Clark helped L.A. build a modest 10-point lead before Orlando went back to their Hack-A-Dwight strategy. Through three quarters, Dwight had attempted 27 free throws, making 15 of them. With 12 minutes left in the game, L.A. led 76-68.
With the Magic looking to make a comeback in the fourth quarter, the Lakers came out early in the period and shot down any chance of that happening. A great assist from Blake to Jamison two minutes into the fourth put the Lakers up 16, and seemed to be the final straw to finish off Orlando. For the majority of the game the Magic simply seemed outmatched. Even with the emotional boost of Howard’s return, the Magic didn’t have enough to slow down the Lakers.
For once it was the Lakers getting a lot of easy looks at the rim, as they controlled the majority of the fourth quarter by attacking the basket and getting easy looks. A big reason for their success in closing out the game was Antawn Jamison, who’s been a key bench contributor for the Lakers over the course of the last month. His energy and passion on the offensive end was a big reason for the Lakers’ easy victory.
<blockquote><p>Antawn’s on the verge of a double double himself, 10 points, 8 boards.</p>— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) <a href=”https://twitter.com/SerenaWinters/status/311645715300483074″>March 13, 2013</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>
The Magic looked to make one final run and give the Lakers some cause for concern, but they just didn’t have enough firepower. It ultimately resulted in the Lakers’ fourth consecutive win, and a triumphant return for Dwight Howard to Orlando. For the second straight game the Lakers didn’t get as much scoring from Bryant as they’re accustomed to, but for the second straight game it didn’t matter. Late in the fourth quarter, Dwight broke the Lakers free throw attempts record with 39, surpassing Shaq’s record of 31 attempts. He also tied his own record of most free throw attempts in a regular season game with 39. The Lakers defeated the Magic in Orlando, 106-97.