LOS ANGELES — With Kobe Bryant out of the lineup for the fourth time in the last six games due to a sore right shoulder, the Los Angeles Lakers leaned on their young trio to lead them past the Orlando Magic 107-98.
The Magic held control of the game for much of the first half lead by a combined 27 points from Victor Oladipo and Evan Fournier. Los Angeles remained in striking distance at the half trailing 51-45 with Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson both scoring in double figure 10 and 11 points respectively.
The Lakers battled back in the third quarter taking as much as a 10-point lead behind D’Angelo Russell scoring a quarter-high 14 points in the period that helped get a 13-point swing in their favor. They maintained their lead through the fourth quarter that never dwindled down to fewer than nine points in the final period.
Los Angeles was lead by their young core with Randle, Clarkson, and Russell all notching 20-plus points, making it just the fifth time this season that they have three players with such scoring outputs. It also was the first time that all three players had scored 20 or more points in the same game.
The win marked the Lakers’ third win streak of the season. Here are five things we learned on Tuesday night:
Russell strong again
With Bryant out of the lineup, the Lakers’ rookie had another chance to put together a strong offensive performance and he responded with a game-high 27 points on 11-of-19 shooting in 36 minutes played.
Russell had a quietly productive first half scoring nine points but got going in the second half scoring 14 points in the period knocking down 6-of-9 shot attempts, including scoring six straight points that played in a critical part in help the Lakers make a 13-point turnaround grabbing a seven-point heading into the fourth quarter.
“I would say the experience is helping me see things clearer. A lot of the reads are easier,” Russell said. “I just feel that I’m getting better as far as individual progress and knowing when I mess up. I’m getting better game by game.”
Russell has been quite productive since being reinserted into the starting lineup in the eight games prior to Tuesday night averaging 19.9 points, 5.0 assists, and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 49.0 from 3-point range. Tuesday’s performance makes it six 20-plus point outings in the last seven games.
Since returning to the starting lineup 22 games ago, Randle has been the team’s most consistent player averaging 13.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. This also includes posting 14 of his 27 double-doubles for the season during that span.
Randle added another solid outing to that list with his 28th double-double of the season with 23 points and 11 rebounds. He was most effective in the paint that included a couple of driving layups that involved using his right hand. His best sequence of the game came in the third quarter crossing over Ersan Ilyasova on the baseline for a layup and followed it up with a steal and dunk on the fast break.
“We just let everything come to us easy,” Randle said. “Whenever we had an opportunity to be aggressive or attack we did that.”
It has come to a point where the 21-year-old’s high production is expected on a nightly basis regardless of the outcome of the game. With 17 games left in the season, it will provide plenty of opportunities for Randle to build on his strong stretch of performances.
Third quarter explosion
Heading into the second half of the game, the Lakers trailed the Magic by six points at 51-45. However, things quickly changed with Los Angeles scoring 39 points in the period on 59.1 percent shooting, which tied a season-high for points any quarter this season.
Los Angeles was led by their young duo of Randle and Russell, who scored a combined 24 points 9-for-12 shooting in the quarter. All but two of their 13 made field goals in the period came from either Randle, Russell, or Clarkson. They also had 18 points in the paint on 9-of-11 shooting while going 10-of-11 from the free throw line.
“In the second half, we played with the same fire and intensity that we had played with against the Golden State Warriors for 48 minutes,” Head coach Byron Scott. “I was happy with the way we came out after the first half.”
Overall, it was another encouraging performance that showed continued improvement from the team winning three out of the last five games.
“Our attention to detail is much better, [the] focus is much better, executing on all ends of the floor is much better,” Scott said. “It’s a very small sample but these two two games, hopefully, it’s any indication on we can play for the rest of the season.”
The Magic have been one of the most improved team this season winning eight more games than they had at this point last year. One of the players that is leading the charge for them has been Oladipo, who scored a team-high 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting against the Lakers on Tuesday night.
Oladipo was active offensively in the first quarter becoming the first player to reach double figures with 11 points knocking down five out of his first six shots, including scoring making three consecutive shots. He heated up in the third quarter with 11 points that helped keep the Magic in the game.
The 23-year-old has been a consistent scoring punch for his team in his third season with notching double-digit points 47 times, including 20-plus points 12 and 30-plus points once.
He’s on pace to become the third player since the 1985-86 season to begin his NBA with 1,100-plus points, 110-plus steals and 70-plus 3-pointers made in three straight seasons. In short, Oladipo has shown continued progress in his third year.
Throughout the season, the second-year guard has been the team’s most reliable scorer and has taken that up a notch over the last 11 games entering Tuesday’s contest scoring 20 or more points six times.
Clarkson added another strong outing with 24 points including going 5-of-12 from beyond the arc against the Magic. He was the first Lakers’ player to get into double figures with 11 points in the first half, including an impressive crossover of Fournier and knocked down the ensuing 3-pointer. The 23-year-old continued to be factor from beyond the arc in the second half with a pair of 3-pointers scoring 13 points in the final two quarters.
“We are just playing hard and competing,” Clarkson said. “We just want to come out here and get better every game and definitely win. We are trying to find a way to just put it all together and play well with each other.”
What has been most encouraging has been his shooting from beyond the arc over the last month shooting hitting 45 percent of his attempts in both February and March. It’s something that has helped fuel his up uptick in production scoring 18.1 points per game since the All-Star break. He will have the opportunity to build off of that over the final month of the season.
Bob Garcia IV
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