The Orlando Magic deserves credit, much more than I’m willing to give them.
En route to their 2-1 series lead over Cleveland following Sunday night’s 99-89 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Magic have brushed up against blown leads and big comebacks, the defending champions and the reigning MVP. They’ve won five road games, lost four times on a last-second shot, have lived and died by the three, overcome two 40-point games by LeBron James and one suspension to its best player.
But their luck seems ready to run out. The Cavaliers stand on dangerous ground in this series, no doubt. Cleveland was 1.0 seconds away from walking into Game 4 on Tuesday in Orlando looking to avoid a shocking sweep. As it stands, the Magic can take a commanding 3-1 lead.
Here’s why they won’t. The Magic are still far too flawed. But with Denver’s inconsistency and instability flaring up right on cue out West, Orlando has evolved into the darlings of the Conference Finals. Looks like lipstick on a pig from this view.
The Magic still is a jump shooting team. Their starting point guard still is Rafer Alston, who has the potential to make any number of boneheaded decisions on any given possession. They still don’t have a consistent low post scoring option, which will at some point catch up to them down the stretch. The guy who is supposed to be that consistent low post scorer, Dwight Howard, looks like his emotions are starting to bring out the worst in him at costly times. They’re banking on overachieving role players Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis – both of whom the Cavs have yet to figure out – to close out games.
And oh yeah, they still look utterly stumped by James, who eventually is going to get something from his teammates and finally be rewarded for making the right play.
In no way is Orlando playing its best ball. But in every way are the Cavs playing their worst.
The Cavs were the best defensive team in the regular season, holding opponents to a league-low 91.3 points per game and finishing tied for first with Boston in limiting opponents to 43.1 percent shooting, including a league-low 33.3 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Cleveland has allowed Orlando to shoot 49 percent from the field, including 41.6 percent from behind the arc, and average 100 points. The Cavs’ offense, meanwhile, has regressed each game, going from 106 points and five wine and gold jerseys in double-digit scoring in Game 1 to 89 points and just three players in double-digit points in Game 3.
“It’s amazing that we’re still in games at times,” said Cavs guard Mo Williams. “And I think ya’ll know why. It’s No. 23.
“We got to get back to Cavalier basketball.”
Maybe it’s time for Cleveland to forget about Dwight Howard and allow throw more one-on-one post defense at the man-child than he’s ever seen, anything to keep the Magic’s 3-point gunners from getting hot. Perhaps it’s time for the team that blew out teams by a league-best 8.92 margin to revert to outscoring Orlando. Or maybe James should just shift some of that unconditional trust of his teammates back on himself and will this series to a 2-2 deadlock.
The Magic, through all their ups and downs in these playoffs, has shown they can become complacent. Did so in Round One when they toyed with Philadelphia and allowed the Sixers a 2-1 series lead before closing them out in six. Did it again in the Conference Semifinals when Boston took back-to-back victories in Games 4 and 5 on Glen “Big Baby” Davis’ game-winning jumper in Orlando and the Celtics’ 17-3 run to end the game in Boston.
Something is sure to catch up with Orlando. The Magic have too many blemishes on their record to advance this cleanly.
GETTING MO OUT OF MO
Listening to Mo Williams’ post game press conference, I got the sense that the Cavs’ point guard is in store for a big Game 4 on Tuesday.
Following his 5-for-16 shooting performance that resulted in only 15 points with three assists against five turnovers and four fouls, Williams bit the bullet and laid it all on the line.
“We’re giving these guys too much respect,” Williams said candidly. “They’re a good basketball team but so are we.”
Williams then pointed out the pink elephant that sits only in Cleveland’s dressing room, acknowledging the Cavs just can’t match up with Orlando’s Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. He even called versatile swingman Mickael Pietrus the Magic’s “wild card” off the bench.
“They create so many matchup problems for us,” Williams said. “It’s evident. It’s no secret. We know it. Everybody knows it.”
When asked whether he had any bad history with Anthony Johnson or if Orlando’s backup point guard’s controversial elbow to his face would be remembered, Williams stayed focused on the task at hand. (Sort of.)
“I’ve got bigger fish to fry,” Williams said as three band-aids stretched across his stitched-up face, one above and two below his left eye. “I’ve got to figure out how I can make some shots. How I can get open looks. I couldn’t care less about Anthony Johnson. He plays 12 minutes a game.”
If any of the Cavs step up and give James something in Game 4 look for it to be Williams. As he sat on the podium it was as if he was saying, ‘Yeah we have matchup problems. Yeah we’re not making shots. Yeah we’re down 2-1. So what. Let’s play ball!’
It was the definition of manning up.
I’m sick and tired of LeBron James getting every call. It’s embarrassing. I want to see a LeBron v. Kobe Finals more than anyone. But don’t cheat to make it happen.
Whatever happened to “playoff basketball?” Eighty-six free throws? Unbelievable! Everything is not a foul, and not all contact deserves a trip to the free throw line. I literally dosed off with just less than six minutes remaining and thankfully awoke at the three-minute mark. I quickly rewound my DVR to the last play I remember before hitting REM sleep and, lo and behold, I hit the play button only to see Dwight Howard strolling to the free throw line following a commercial break.
How this song and dance helped Howard make 14 of 19 free throws is anyone’s guess.
Mo Williams sounds like he will make a great college coach someday.
Hedo Turkoglu is baiting some team into seriously overpaying him this summer. Good for him.
Courtney Lee has now posterized James twice in this series. I can guarantee you that was a big talking point in the Magic’s locker room following the game.
During James’ press conference, NBATV showed a graphic that listed the scoring leaders in the past four years of the playoffs. A forgotten name was near the top of the list. Gilbert Arenas sits in third place at 28 points per game (minimum 15 games) and trails only Bryant and James. Here’s hoping Agent Zero gets back soon but most importantly fully healed and ready to reclaim his seat alongside the game’s best in 2009-10.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
“We were able to overcome the dagger of the other night. How would we respond to LeBron’s shot? Everything is so psychological with you guys. It is a basketball game. Our guys were ready to play.” – Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy.