The Orlando Magic snapped the Los Angeles Lakers' nine-game winning streak by upsetting them 119-118 at Staples Center on Wednesday night.
The victory should have been a lot easier. The Magic led by as many as 21 points before the Lakers erased a 20-point deficit in eight minutes to take a 94-93 lead with just over 10 minutes remaining in the final quarter. From there, it was a back-and-forth affair down the stretch.
Markelle Fultz's two-point bucket gave the Magic some breathing room, up 116-112 with 38.6 seconds left, but LeBron James sunk a three-pointer to pull the Lakers within one. Fultz again came up big to extend Orlando's lead to 118-115 at the 15.4-second mark.
Aaron Gordon's made free throw with 1.7 seconds left kept the game from going to overtime, as Quinn Cook nailed a three-pointer as time was expiring.
Ultimately, Orlando avenged its Dec. 11 meeting with the Lakers, which L.A. won 96-87.
The 33-8 Western Conference-leading Lakers were without All-Star forward Anthony Davis, who missed his fourth game in a row with a bruised gluteus maximus suffered due to a hard fall during the team's 117-87 victory over the New York Knicks on Jan. 7. Veteran point guard Rajon Rondo (finger) was also out.
Reserve guard Alex Caruso took an elbow to his mouth in the early going and was evaluated for a concussion, per team reporter Mike Trudell, which had inconclusive results and kept him out for the remainder of the game.
The Magic, meanwhile, improved to 20-21 without Evan Fournier (right quad), D.J. Augustin (knee), Michael Carter-Williams (shoulder) and Jonathan Isaac, who suffered a knee injury on Jan. 1.
ORL G Markelle Fultz: 21 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, 1 steal
ORL F Aaron Gordon: 21 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
ORL C Nikola Vucevic: 19 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
ORL F Wes Iwundu: 19 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals
ORL G Terrence Ross: 15 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
LAL F LeBron James: 19 points, 3 rebounds, 19 assists, 1 steal
LAL G Quinn Cook: 22 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
LAL G Troy Daniels: 17 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist
LAL G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: 17 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
LAL C JaVale McGee: 14 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks
Magic Lean on Fultz and Iwundu Amid Injury Woes
Fultz and Iwundu were crucial pieces to the Magic's upset victory despite Gordon treating the game like a dunk contest:
Fultz recorded a career-high 11 rebounds and performed as he was expected to when the Philadelphia 76ers picked him No. 1 overall in 2017 before thoracic outlet syndrome in his shoulder derailed his development:
"I'm still the No. 1 pick," Fultz told Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix for a story published last week. "That will never change. But I took care of the injury. I can play freely. I can do what I want. I can do what I love most. Every game I'm improving. Every game I'm feeling better. It helps when you see the ball going in."
"I think 30 games from now, he'll be at another level," head coach Steve Clifford told Marc Stein of the New York Times on Nov. 12. "He just hasn't played a lot of basketball in a couple years."
The Magic have now played 31 games since Clifford said that, and the guard is proving him right.
Fultz was accompanied by a career-high 19 points from Iwundu, including nine points and two boards in the opening quarter.
Somehow, Orlando managed to have such a well-rounded outing that All-Star center Vucevic was an afterthought. That is the best-case scenario for the banged-up Magic, especially against the juggernaut Lakers.
The Lakers Can't Compensate For Davis' Absence
Caruso's absence certainly didn't help matters for the Lakers, as James pointed out his importance to the team earlier this week:
However, James is the only one whose value compares to Davis'.
L.A. was able to win three straight without the 2012 No. 1 pick, but Davis-less success isn't sustainable. The Lakers got a taste of that against the Magic, who were at the very least equally hampered.
This loss could be chalked up as an anomaly in some ways, though.
The Lakers were still able to climb out of a 21-point hole with significant production from the bench:
Earlier Wednesday, Vogel spoke about how the Lakers are different without Davis.
"We obviously change very much [without Davis]," he said, per Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times. "Dramatically. And it's really been a great time for [forward Kyle Kuzma] to climb the rope. He struggled to catch a rhythm in this system early in the year battling the injuries and having a new role than he had last year."
Kuzma didn't have a great time against the Magic, as he was all but invisible as a scorer with four points on 2-of-10 shooting. The 24-year-old has been starting for Davis and led all Lakers with 36 points in a 125-110 win over Oklahoma City on Jan. 11.
Kuzma can't consistently replace what Davis brings to the court, though. Nor can any other Laker.
The Lakers need Davis back alongside James as the rest of January will round out against much tougher competition such as the 26-14 Houston Rockets, 27-12 Boston Celtics, 26-16 Philadelphia 76ers and 28-13 Los Angeles Clippers.
The Magic will stay in Los Angeles to play the Clippers on Thursday.
The Lakers will begin a five-game road trip in Houston on Saturday.