Here are five observations from the Lakers’ 106-94 victory over the Orlando Magic on Sunday at Staples Center:
1. They got that guy
The Lakers’ flaws — mindless turnovers, so-so defense, even worse offense — defined the first half Sunday and seemed to be pushing the Lakers down a familiar path. Maybe they’d survive the lackluster performance, but win or lose, things would seem tougher than necessary.
Then LeBron James happened.
James went nuclear in the third quarter and pushed the Lakers out way in front, giving them more than enough cushion to survive a clunker in the fourth.
“He was spectacular again,” coach Frank Vogel said. “Just, he’s exemplifying, to find the right words, finding joy through hustle and how it’s really fun to pour it all out there on the floor and inspire your group. The effort that he’s playing with, he’s inspiring our whole group. Our team is playing extremely hard, defending and running the floor. We’re making strides playing extra-pass basketball. We’re still not quite where we need to be yet.
“But LeBron’s leading the charge in all those things. He was terrific again tonight.”
2. Blocks and a charge
It wasn’t just that James was having another terrific offensive game. The difference on Sunday was that he was flying around the court on defense, his energy resulting in a trio of highlight-reel blocked shots including a pair of his patented chase-downs from behind.
“It’s great. It’s a big energy boost for our team and shows that he’s making the second efforts to be able to protect, especially when we’re small, and it’s big,” Russell Westbrook said. “It’s big for us and I know it’s big for him, it shows that he’s able to still do what he’s been doing for so many, so many years. Year after year. It’s good to see.”
3. Down a star
The Lakers played without Anthony Davis for the second game in a row, the star big man sidelined because of a sore left knee.
The team, though, received good news after tests on Davis’ knee revealed no structural problems, with the team calling him “day to day” moving forward.
“Obviously, we miss AD and miss his presence and make sure he’s healthy,” Westbrook said. “Until then we’re holding it down for him.”
4. Answering with effort
Vogel was asked about the Lakers’ effort and toughness levels following their win Sunday and it led to one of the more revealing and detailed answers of the season, with the coach passionately describing the ways to try to coach that part of the game.
“You know it’s easy to just say, ‘Hey, you guys are not playing hard enough,’ you know? But the reality is you have to be direct and precise in terms of what you’re talking about,” Vogel said. “’You guys are not running the floor hard enough. You’re not sprinting back in transition hard enough. You’re not crashing the glass hard enough. You’re not screening and getting out of screens fast enough. You’re not cutting.’
“All these things that just fall in the bucket of effort and playing harder than your opponent, you’ve got to be precise with those things. You’ve got to coach those things hard. And that’s what we’re doing with our group. We’re making progress.”
5. Settling in
Third-year wing Talen Horton-Tucker has looked more comfortable playing alongside James and Westbrook, and Sunday, he flashed the two-way potential the Lakers hope he can provide.
On his way to 19 points, he made three threes and on the other end, Horton-Tucker used his length to make a career-best six steals.
“He’s really coming along. We’re trying to bring him some consistency,” Vogel said. “… The way he’s defending right now, the way he’s shooting it and shooting threes and the way he’s always a threat to knife through the defense and get a layup … those are attributes that we did see in him and why we invested in him and the role that we thought we would have for him.”