ORLANDO, March 8 – Vince Carter second 25 points and the Orlando Magic held off a late rally to edge the Los Angeles Lakers 96-94 on Sunday in a rematch of last season's NBA Finals opponents.
The Lakers lost for the third time in a row, something they had not done since obtaining Spanish star Pau Gasol in February of 2008, and dropped their fourth consecutive road game to stand at 46-18, second-best in the NBA.
"I’m worried about what we can do to win ball games," Gasol said. "I’m not worried about streaks."
Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson each added 15 points for the Magic, who won for the fifth time in a row.
The Lakers beat the Magic in January at Los Angeles in the first meeting between the clubs since the Lakers denied Orlando the title in last year’s NBA Finals.
"You could see it in everybody’s faces and everybody’s demeanor – everybody on that floor wanted to win that game," Carter said. "It wasn’t just, ‘Yeah, OK whatever.’ It was, ‘Let’s go get it.’ That game was game seven."
Lakers star Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 34 points, 18 of them in the fourth quarter, despite a stomach illness that kept him on the bench much of the second quarter. He missed a final shot at the buzzer to seal the defeat.
"There are some things that, as an experienced team, we should not have happen to us," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Those are the things we try to remedy, but today we were just a little bit off."
Gasol, who scored 20 points, tipped-in a Bryant miss to pull the Lakers within 93-89 with 48 seconds to play. Howard added a free throw for Orlando but Bryant responded with a 3-pointer as Los Angeles pulled within 94-92.
Lakers standout Ron Artest — his hair dyed blonde with the word "defense" painted in purple in Hindi, Hebrew and Japanese — then fouled Nelson, who hit 1-of-2 free throws to stretch the lead to 95-92.
Bryant sank a long shot thinking it was a game-tying 3-pointer but a video replay review showed his right foot was on the 3-point arc and therefore the basket was only a 2-pointer, leaving the Lakers one point down with 12.9 seconds remaining.
Carter was fouled with 9.7 seconds remaining and missed his first free throw after starting 12-for-12 at the line, but he hit the second free throw to produce the final margin.
Bryant missed at the buzzer and the Magic escaped with a victory.
"We can’t be the hunted any more. We got to be the hunters," Magic standout Matt Barnes said. "We got to go at people and take it at people, no matter who it is."