Nikola Vucevic, Magic Upset LeBron James, Lakers; JaVale McGee Blocks 7 Shots

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistNovember 25, 2018

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 25: Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Orlando Magic drives to the basket during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on November 25, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles Lakers' recent run of home excellence is over.

Nikola Vucevic had 31 points as part of a near-triple-double to lead the Orlando Magic to a 108-104 road win over the Lakers on Sunday.

Vucevic added 15 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks to his big scoring effort. He's recorded seven double-doubles in his last nine games.

The Magic built their lead on the back of a dominant 35-19 third quarter. Aaron Gordon scored 11 points of his 17 in the period.

The Lakers entered Sunday having won three straight games overall and four consecutive at the Staples Center. LeBron James had 24 points, seven assists and four rebounds but turned the ball over six times.

Kyle Kuzma added 21 points for the Lakers, who did not score in the game's final two minutes. Terrence Ross and Gordon each scored in the final minute to put the game away for Orlando. 

JaVale McGee Emerging As a Most Improved Player Candidate

McGee's performance will get a little bit lost in the shuffle here because it came in a loss and he did most of his damage in the first half.

That said, it's a continuation of a player who seems fully comfortable in his skin in Los Angeles. McGee finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and seven blocks. Four of his five made shots were dunks; the Lakers have done an excellent job of maximizing all his strengths while minimizing his weaknesses.

More importantly: McGee is playing within himself more than he ever has at any point in his career. Not only is he blocking shots, he's adjusting them and forcing players into low-percentage looks. Opponents entered Sunday shooting just 49.1 percent at the rim against McGee, one of the best marks in the league.

"He's been great," Lakers coach Luke Walton told Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press. "He's been professional. He's taking care of himself. He's vocal in the locker rooms and the huddles, he's been producing for us, obviously his shot-blocking has been a big part of us having some success on defense. We're very pleased with JaVale."

McGee was considered little more than a sideshow during his time with the Warriors, a 7-foot face palm emoji who had moments of occasional brilliance. He hadn't played more than 20 minutes per game since the 2011-12 season. 

JaVale is an actual contributing basketball player on a minimum contract. He's been a home run—and someone we should really consider in the MIP discussion if he can keep this up. 

Nikola Vucevic Emerging as All-Star Candidate 

Not much to say here, really.

Vucevic has been the best player on one of the NBA's most surprising(ly not terrible) teams. He's averaging 20-11 every night while handing out dimes, playing decent defense and knocking down threes. Marc Gasol is a better overall player, but there has been a Gasolian quality to Vucevic's game in the way he's comfortable acting as an offensive fulcrum.

The Magic have a real decision to make here. Vucevic is a free agent at the end of the season. The team drafted Mo Bamba in June, ostensibly to take Vucevic's place. Bamba is clearly not ready for a full-time NBA starter's workload.

With the Magic sitting at 10-10, they're currently the No. 6 seed in the moribund Eastern Conference. The franchise hasn't made the playoffs since Dwight Howard left. The market needs a boost, and Vucevic has been the biggest reason these Magic are (relatively) thriving.

He's also a pretty sizable trade chip who is pushing his value up with every strong performance. Orlando will probably play out the string closer to the trade deadline, but this is an under-the-radar situation worth monitoring.

Regardless, Vucevic is an All-Star if we picked teams today.


Lakers Still Among NBA Elite in the Clutch Despite Late Loss

The Lakers made a valiant comeback from 15 points down only to fumble things away down the stretch. They didn't score after tying the game with 2:24 remaining, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of all people played a focal role in the offense.

I...don't know, either.

Early-season losses to the Spurs and Timberwolves also featured crunch-time gaffes that arguably cost the Lakers winnable games.

Take those all out of context, and you might wonder if the Lakers have a "clutch gene" problem.

The stats would tell you otherwise. The Lakers entered Sunday fifth in the NBA in clutch net rating, outscoring opponents by 25.4 points per 100 possessions. That number will dip once the league enters the numbers from this loss, but this isn't a macro problem.

The Lakers made some execution errors down the stretch in a winnable game. It happens. It happens pretty regularly to teams still learning how to play together and pretty regularly to mediocre teams, both of which describe the Lakers.

It's the most lukewarm take, but sometimes stuff just happens. 


What's Next?

The Magic stay on the West Coast for a trip to Golden State on Monday. The Lakers travel to Denver to play the Nuggets on Tuesday.