LOS ANGELES – If they’re going to lose, these guys will always go down swinging.

The Lakers’ 9-game winning streak came to an end Wednesday night against the Magic, but not before erasing a 21-point deficit and holding a lead heading into the final three minutes of regulation.

That comeback, starting midway through the third quarter, showed the essence of a team always has one more run in itself.

In this case, it was a furious 22-2 sequence led by LeBron James at the controls and a trio of the most dangerous bench shooters in the league.

Yes, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Troy Daniels, and Quinn Cook made good on their reputations and finally found a way to vulnerate Orlando’s impressive, Steve Clifford-devised defensive scheme.

“Our bench is the reason why there was a game at the end,” James said.

Cook led the 68-point bench explosion with 22 in easily his best game as a Laker.

“Just staying ready, being a professional,” he explained about his mentality. “Just being consumed with winning. Staying in the gym. You never know in this league. That’s the sacrifice you have to make when you play on great teams like these.”

He went 4-for-7 from downtown but was far from the only one with the hot hand.

KCP shot 3-for-8 from long distance en route to his 17 points, and Troy Daniels (17 as well) was even more accurate, connecting on 4 of his 5 attempts.

This last play – a 4-point momentum shifter – came right after one of the most vicious blocks this team has seen in a season full of them.

JaVale McGee (14 points, nine boards, three rejections) made sure Terrence Ross would end the possession empty-handed. Like, really made sure of it:

Later, in the third, L.A.’s defense managed a streak of 15 consecutive empty possessions by the Magic – 13 missed shots and a pair of turnovers.

And that was the biggest story of the night from the Lakers’ standpoint, even more than losing their first game to a team below .500 this season after winning 22 straight.

Bigger even than King James tying his career-high with 19 assists on one of his rare off-shooting nights or Dwight Howard pulling down 16 boards.

Frank Vogel’s squad, already missing Anthony Davis (gluteus maximums contusion) and losing Alex Caruso early after taking an elbow to the face, dug deep and gave itself a chance when it was clear almost from the jump that it had no business winning this particular game.

“We have a good team,” Vogel added. “Even when we’re not at our best we have the ability to rally.”

That never-say-die attitude, more so than LeBron’s sustained brilliance and AD’s dominance, is why the Lakers are 33-8 heading into the second half the season.



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