Orlando at L.A. Lakers
Time: 9:30 PM CT (NBA LP)
Spread: LAL -6.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Los Angeles Lakers have been hot, but do not let that distract you from the fact the team is still a full 7.5 games out of the No. 8 spot in the West.
It is a strong finish to a season that could have been tanked. Orlando, meanwhile, proceeds in its tanking effort at 20-44 as losers of eight of its past 10. The Magic travel to Staples Center as 6.5-point underdogs against the 28-35 Lakers.
The L.A. Lakers had its five-game win streak snapped last outing with a 103-108 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Even so, the Lakers have been playing their best ball of the season. The Lakers hung 131 points on the defensive-oriented Miami Heat in a 131-113 win, as Isaiah Thomas recaptured some of his mojo in scoring 29 points on 11 of 20 shooting.
Power forward Julius Randle also had a big game against the Heat, scoring 25 points and grabbing six boards while starting and playing 34 minutes. Former starter Kyle Kuzma came off the bench behind Randle to hit 6 of 10 from the floor in 28 minutes en route to 16 points. Randle had 25 points and three assists in 33 minutes in the 116-112 win over San Antonio.
The Lakers did start Lonzo Ball at the 1-spot, and the rookie came through with eight points, six steals, seven assists and six rebounds while posting a team-best +24 in his 34 minutes on the court against the Heat. Ball does so many of the small things, and he is really making an impact as the numbers reflect the Lakers playing better ball with the former UCLA guard on the court. Ball has averaged 7.5 points and six assists in three games since returning from injury, but his game against the Heat was probably his best since returning from injury. Against San Antonio, Ball had 18 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds while shooting 6 of 10 from three-point range, a supposed weakness of his, but an aspect that has been coming along.
After the Heat contest, Miami guard Dwyane Wade was impressed, and called himself a “fan” of Lonzo Ball, and Luke Walton said he was “the best player on the court, though he only shot five times,” adding, “He is a unique player who can impact the game all over.”
The Lakers may have a long-shot to make the postseason, but with the pieces coming together and the way the team is playing, the future is probably far brighter far sooner than most have anticipated. Ball is the real deal, even if the hype from his father has cast a light on him far brighter than he wanted to deal with.
Former Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton had largely disappointed, albeit with some bright flashes, in his tenure with Orlando, but one must wonder how the Suns were able to finagle a still-promising young guard for a second-round pick. In his stead, the Magic will start D.J. Augustin, as it searches for some continuity in the second half of yet another poor season. This will mark the sixth-straight season of playoff-less basketball for Orlando, and beyond Payton’s departure, Magic fans also have to stomach the fact another player from the rebuild (Victor Oladipo) is now an All-Star for the Indiana Pacers.
Tobias Harris was recently dealt again after Orlando swapped him to Detroit, but he was used in obtaining NBA All-Star Blake Griffin. And so, from Orlando’s talented trio of Payton, Oladipo, and Harris, the returns in total have equated to a half-season rental of Serge Ibaka, a second-round pick, and two players which were cut from the roster (Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings). The Magic, meanwhile, have only that second round pick and Terrence Ross to show from a starting lineup that had posted a 19-13 record before a disastrous January which led to the Harris deal.
Gone also from that team is its head coach Scott Skiles, who led Orlando to 35-wins that season only to ultimately just retire mid-contract and the end of the season. From this, current head coach Frank Vogel leads a rather mosh-mashed amalgam of a talentless roster that should have no problem descending to the cellar of the East, especially since Orlando only is a half-game ahead of the woeful Hawks for that dubious distinction as of today.
Orlando is “Pure Tragic,” and ineptitude from both former GM Rob Hennigan and what looks to be worse mistakes still from John Hammond, are entirely to blame. The instability of the Magic organization is something that could maybe have been sensed from the ugly circumstances surrounding the “Dwightmare,” but few thought his exit would lead to over a half-decade of NBA purgatory.
The 2018 NBA Draft should hold some promise for Orlando, but little on its current roster offers that same token. Perhaps 2017 No. 6 overall pick Jonathan Isaac will pan out, but he has spent the majority of this season injured after a strong showing in the Orlando summer league. Jonathon Simmons has panned out nicely, and Mario Hezonja is recently showing some signs, but Hezonja is a free agent at season’s end, and many feel he is unlikely to return.
Doing the math, it is possible that Isaac is the only lottery pick outside of star forward Aaron Gordon who is with the team next season. Gordon is probably the only player on Orlando’s roster with actual trade value, but that makes him even less likely to be dealt. Meanwhile, Orlando will simply try to get the highest return as it holds a fire sale on the veterans it has.
Veterans Nikola Vucevic or Evan Fournier could be the next moved, but neither likely offers the return in trade value that fans would like to assume they do. In short, the Magic are really still at ground zero post-Dwight, despite six long years of trying to improve that status. The Magic will be active this summer, but it’s tough to say what their agenda is outside of re-signing restricted free agent Aaron Gordon.