Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
Ever since the Los Angeles Lakers came out and dominated the Phoenix Suns in Games 1 and 2 in the Western Conference Finals and the Boston Celtics squeaked out two victories over the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals, the focus of the national media has quickly swung from the Conference Finals to the NBA Finals.
In the blink on an eye, the Orlando Magic were written off. The same team that swept the Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks in the first two rounds of the playoffs with near perfect execution failed to execute offensively as they found themselves facing off against a much tougher defensive team than they could have been prepared for. Boston has been playing defense at such a high level that no one in the league, save for the Lakers and their array of offensive options, could possibly be prepared for. They go after every loose ball, anticipate every extra pass before it happens, suffocate Dwight Howard downlow, and are doing a fantastic job at running the Magic off of the three-point line.
With the Magic missing their two most potent options on the offensive end, Dwight and their three-point shooters, and Rajon Rondo picking apart the Magic defense with penetration, Boston has had a pretty easy time stopping Orlando from getting into a rhythm. That’s really the only hope you have against Orlando if you want to stop them from scoring. As we saw in the first two rounds, if they’re given an inch of space, their shooters can get their shots off over anybody and Howard can finish over anybody.
Dwight’s had a rough go of things. Even though he had an incredibly efficient 30 points on nine-of-13 shooting with terrific shooting from the line (12-of-17), a lot of his shots bounced in awkwardly and, if there is a knock against Howard, its that he isn’t going to get those weird bounces to go down most of the time. The post moves are there, you’re crazy if you watch these games and don’t see that he has several different moves in the low post, its just those 50/50 shots that are more like 30/70 shots for Dwight in favor of the opposition.
With Kendrick Perkins defending him just about as well as anyone can, pushing him off his spots, countering Dwight’s strength with his own, and getting into his head, and Rasheed Wallace contributing three or four very hard fouls a game that should really be more than your run of the mill call. But that’s something Dwight has to live with. That’s why he’s the hardest player in the league to officiate. Nobody can match up with him when he catches the ball within five feet of the rim, which leads to several hard arm hacks a game.
Additionally, because he is so strong, fighting for position isn’t something Dwight is entitled to do in some referees’ minds. In Game 2, while trying to post up Kevin Garnett in transition, Garnett hopped backwards after Howard lowered his body into him to establish his space. Dwight was whistled for a foul when he did absolutely nothing wrong. How is it his fault that KG is physically inferior to him and wasn’t able to handle the punishing blow of a much stronger Howard on the block? It isn’t, but the refs aren’t going to give him any help and Dwight knows this.
On the perimeter, the dirty work is being done by Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Kevin Garnett. All of these guys are making the extra effort to get out to the three-point line before Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick or Rashard Lewis get a clean look at the basket. Nelson’s been off, Lewis has been absolutely horrible, and Redick, well Redick is the only Orlando player that has played well in both games. But he isn’t getting anything easy. He’s not catching and shooting from the wing. J.J.’s had to do most of his work on dribble drives, fancy shots in the paint and out off looks created by the pick and roll.
Nelson, the team’s catalyst in the first two rounds that was playing the best ball of his career by far, has gone from averaging 24 points 48% shooting against Charlotte and 17 points on 57% shooting against Atlanta to putting up just 15 points on 40% shooting in the first two games against Boston. He’s turning it over more, assisting less, shooting worse and getting to the free throw line less often. I guess that’s what happens when you go from Mike Bibby to Rajon Rondo in a week.
Lewis, the $18 million X-Factor that hit many a clutch shots in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, has been awful. His decline has been worse than Nelson’s. He’s gone from 16 points a game on 46% shooting from three to five points a game on 25% shooting from the floor (1-of-9 from three) against Boston. I guess that’s what happens when you go from a team that could care less about closing out on three point shooters and had essentially given up on its season (Atlanta) to a team completely locked in defensively that thinks its going to win an NBA championship.
While none of their players have gotten going, I still feel like there is still a chance for Orlando to come back and win this thing. The fact that neither Nelson or Lewis has played even mediocre basketball to this point in the series should serve as a sign of hope for Orlando. Despite not getting much from their two most important players, the Magic only lost Games 1 and 2 by a total of seven points. Even though Boston completely dominated Game 1, Orlando still found themselves within three in the final minute and they very well could have taken that game into overtime if Lewis hits one of the shots he did last year against Cleveland. In Game 2, if Vince Carter doesn’t miss two free throws in the final 45 seconds and if J.J. Redick calls a timeout as soon as he got the rebound off a Celtics missed free throw in the final 10 seconds instead of taking a few dribbles and then calling a timeout, the Magic probably win that game.
Unfortunately, the ball bounced the other way and Orlando finds themselves down 2-0 to Boston in a best of seven series. The good news? The Magic haven’t executed nearly as well as they did in the first two rounds. Not even close. And, as the series heads back to Boston, with a performance even half as good as one of their games against Atlanta may just get them back into this thing. The Celtics are not a good home team and, with improved play, Orlando has a very nice opportunity to redeem themselves after two very poor performances at home.
Especially Vince and Redick. Two missed free throws in the final 45 seconds and a bone headed decision not to call a timeout off a miss with less than 10 seconds left? Really? They’re better than that. And so is Orlando, for that matter.