The Los Angeles Lakers are the NBA’s highest-scoring team, but they’ve been known to have a defensive lapse or two. The Orlando Magic, meanwhile, having been making plenty of teams look foolish defensively.
Coming off an historic performance from behind the 3-point line, the Magic will look to run their winning streak to six Friday night at Staples Center against the Lakers, who will try to bounce back from a crushing last-second defeat.
Kobe Bryant’s 27.2 points per game rank third in the NBA, and with the reigning MVP leading the way, the Lakers (31-7) are averaging a league-best 107.8 points.
Orlando scores 102.0 ppg, but is pacing the NBA in another offensive category. The Magic (31-8) have hit 407 3-pointers this season, easily the most in the league.
What they did from beyond the arc in their latest game, however, has never been done before. Orlando made an NBA-record 23 3s on Tuesday in Sacramento, sparking a 139-107 rout of the Kings.
“No disrespect to the other team, but we’re excited about getting the record, an NBA record,” said Jameer Nelson, who knocked down all five of his 3-point attempts. “Everyone is going to have trouble guarding the 3 against us because Dwight (Howard) is so tough to stop in the middle.”
Howard routinely dominates the paint, averaging an Eastern Conference-best 13.8 rebounds in addition to 20.2 points. On the perimeter, Orlando has Rashard Lewis, the league leaders in 3-pointers made (114). Lewis’ 41.8 shooting percentage from beyond the arc, though, is only fourth among the team’s regulars.
Among those shooting a higher percentage are rookie Courtney Lee and the previously little-used J.J. Redick. The third-year guard had barely gotten off the bench thus far in his career, but he’s averaging 13.8 points and shooting 65.0 percent (13-for-20) from 3-point range in his last four games.
Yet perhaps the biggest reason for the Magic’s impressive first half - they’re an NBA-best 15-5 on the road - is Nelson. He’s averaging 16.6 points, up 5.7 from last season, and his 50.6 percent field-goal shooting leads all NBA guards.
“All season, I’ve been just trying to make the right play and not trying to force things,” Nelson said.
The Lakers certainly don’t need any reminder of Nelson’s improvement. He was the undisputed difference when Los Angeles visited Amway Arena on Dec. 20, scoring 15 of his 27 points in the third quarter as the Magic came from behind to win 106-103.
The Lakers lost just once in their following 11 games, as Bryant led the way with 30.4 ppg in that stretch. He was brilliant again on Wednesday in San Antonio, scoring 29 points and adding 10 assists, but that wasn’t enough in the Lakers’ first game against the Spurs since last season’s Western Conference finals.
Bryant put Los Angeles up by two when he hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left, but Roger Mason’s 3-point play at the other end wound up being the difference as San Antonio won 112-111.
“Both teams shot the heck out of the ball,” Bryant said. “I mean, it’s tough to lose a game like that.”
An encouraging sign for the Lakers recently has been the play of Andrew Bynum. The 21-year-old center struggled earlier this season while making his way back from a knee injury, and from Dec. 9-Jan. 6 he failed to reach double figures in eight of 14 games.
In his last five contests, though, Bynum is averaging 18.2 points.
He’ll face a tough test in the middle against Howard - a challenge he wasn’t ready for in last month’s loss, when he had three points and five fouls in just 12 minutes.
Bryant scored 41 points against Orlando on Dec. 20, and had 28 in the Magic’s last visit to Los Angeles, a 104-97 Lakers loss on Dec. 2, 2007.