Lakers face tall task in shutting down Nikola Vucevic, Magic

Dan Arritt, The Sports Xchange
Los Angeles Lakers center Tyson Chandler. Photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI
Los Angeles Lakers center Tyson Chandler. Photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI | License Photo

The Los Angeles Lakers have won seven of eight games for the first time since the end of the 2012-13 season, and Sunday they'll face the team that handed them their only defeat during that stretch.

The Orlando Magic (9-10) beat the visiting Lakers 130-117 on Nov. 17 to end their season-long four-game winning streak.


The Lakers (11-7) picked themselves back up after that loss and won the past three games, most recently defeating the visiting Utah Jazz 90-83 on Friday night.

It was the first time this season the Lakers scored fewer than 100 points.

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Los Angeles gave up 100 points through the first three quarters against Orlando last weekend, and never found an answer for Orlando 7-footer Nikola Vucevic, who scored a season-high 36 points.

Vucevic, who played at USC, made 15-of-23 shots and grabbed 13 rebounds. The Lakers tried to go small against Vucevic late in the game, but he made them pay then too.

"Coach puts a big emphasis for us to exploit that when they go small, use it to our advantage to try to get some easy ones," Vucevic said afterward.

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The Lakers also struggled to defend point guard D.J. Augustin, who scored a season-high of 22 points -- more than double his season average (10.3).

"It's tough for teams to guard us on pick-and-rolls because (Vucevic) can shoot so well," Augustin said after beating the Lakers. "I think they had trouble with that tonight and it really worked well for us."

Vucevic and Augustin haven't been nearly as productive in the past two games, both losses.

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Vucevic was held to 14 points and Augustin had five in a 93-91 loss to the visiting Toronto Raptors on Tuesday. Vucevic scored 16 points and Augustin had four in a 112-87 setback at the Denver Nuggets on Friday, which kicked off a five-game road trip out West.

In the latest loss, Orlando gave up 12 offensive rebounds that resulted in 23 second-chance points.

"You've got to be willing to do the things that don't come naturally to you," Orlando coach Steve Clifford told reporters after the loss in Denver. "Right now, we've made strides in a lot of areas. That one comes and goes."

Clifford can expect to see the same Lakers starting lineup that he did eight days earlier.

Lakers small forward LeBron James is averaging 28.6 points, but was held to 22 in the loss to Orlando and 22 again Friday night in the win against Utah. In between, he visited the two organizations he led to NBA titles and scored 51 points at the Miami Heat and 32 at the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Lakers are still allowing the 10th-most points in the league at 113 per game, but their past three opponents are averaging 95.

"They've made a commitment to themselves, and to our group, what they want to be defensively this year and they're working toward it," Lakers coach Luke Walton said after the win against Utah.

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