It was not always pretty, and it certainly was not perfect, but the Lakers secured a 111-105 win over the Magic on Sunday night, stopping their two-game losing streak in the process and climbing back into the 10th seed with the victory.
In a game the Lakers absolutely needed to have, it was their bench who carried them most of the night, scoring 61 of the team’s 111 points and consistently finding ways to get the team back into the game or turn the contest in the Lakers’ favor with their inspired play. Every Lakers reserve had a positive plus-minus (while every starter was in the negative), which was indicative of how important each bench player was and how much each starred in their role.
And no reserve did that more than Austin Reaves, who led the Lakers with a career high 35 points, knocking down nine of his 14 shots from the field and 16 of his 18 attempts from the foul line go along with six rebounds and six assists. Getting more on-ball reps than he has all season — especially down the stretch with the game in the balance — Austin found ways to get good shots for himself or his teammates and, when he couldn’t do that, drawing contact and getting to the free throw line.
Whether he was snaking pick-and-rolls, driving in isolation, or simply riding his defender into his sweet spot, Austin was money shooting his pull-up jumper and expertly navigated a defense that didn’t quite know how to handle his combination of short area quickness, ball handling, and stop-start ability as a shot creator. Time after time, Reaves was able to get to exactly where he wanted to go, and then made the correct decision when he was there to get the Lakers the points they needed to win the game — including multiple big shots in the closing minutes.
Beyond Austin, the rest of the Lakers’ bench group wasn’t as productive, but each brought the needed energy and effort to help stabilize the team and get the game going back in the Lakers’ direction.
From Dennis Schröder’s defense and the way he played with pace and got downhill offensively, to Wenyen Gabriel’s all-around hustle and work on both backboards, or the offensive lift brought by Rui Hachimura’s shot making both on pull-ups and when working out of the post, every Lakers’ reserve who saw minutes was a key contributor to this win.
And this level of effort was needed because the starting group, while productive in their own right and with some good individual performances, as a whole did not have their most efficient nights from the field. And, on several occasions, were just a bit out of synch in how they went about attacking a Magic team that crowded the paint and then leveraged their length and athleticism to still recover out to shooters.
The result, then, were offensive trips where the Lakers finished possessions taking contested jumpers or turning the ball over while playing in a crowd as the defense swarmed the paint. So, while D’Angelo Russell scored 18 points (6-12 field goals) and dished 6 assists, and Anthony Davis had 15 points (6-15 field goals) to go along with 11 rebounds and four blocked shots, the group’s inability to really get a rhythm on offense, while also having some challenges on defense, left them scrambling and a step behind the Magic for most of their shifts.
Orlando was able to take advantage of this, buoyed by Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner who both had 21-point nights to lead them in scoring. Banchero added six rebounds and three assists, while Wagner chipped in eight rebounds and seven dimes. To flank those two, Wendell Carter Jr. had a 16-point, 12-rebound double-double while Markelle Fultz had a 12-point, 10-assist double-double of his own.
It just was not enough, though. Because whenever it looked like the Magic might get over the hump to take control, Reaves or Dennis or D-Lo or AD made a play to settle the team down. And not a moment too soon, either.
The Lakers will be back in action on Wednesday when their home stand continues with the Suns coming to visit.