Los Angeles can sense it. The city's basketball community knows their Lakers are two wins away from the team's 15th champiopnship and nothing, not even a sloppy Game Two win, can stop their excitement. Hell, I am guessing the mayor of LA already has every part of the victory parade planned out.
As for Orlando, their eulogy is being written while you read this. Dwight Howard's hype train has broken down as the Lakers have double teamed him into near irrelevance on the offensive end.
Meanwhile, Stan Van Gundy is catching a lot of heat for giving Jameer Nelson (the team captain and the heart of the squad) a chance to play in the NBA Finals when doing so has disrupted the hot streak and team chemistry the Magic developed without him.
Things have gotten so bad that Shaq has probably already learned how to tap so he can eventually dance on the grave of Orlando's season while probably rapping insults at both Howard and SVG.
Still, it isn't as if too many people actually care about the fate of the Magic. They care more about the future ascension of the Lakers. People seem to want to hear about how a focused and super-driven Kobe cements his legacy as an all time great winner or how Phil Jackson finally passes Red Auerbach with his tenth ring.
They want to learn about Odom's winning sugar diet (let's call it the Milk Dud Diet) and if Jordan Farmar has received a role sans makeup in the new The Hobbit movie.
The thing is, the dirty little secret most people have chosen to ignore in the series is far is that it's far from over, and in fact can still go a full seven games, which would of course completely change the spin that the major market medias have put on the game.
First of all, the Magic are a young team whose players have little if any Finals experience. Thus, their Game One disaster should be recognized as a case of the jitters rather than as a preview for the rest of the games. If anything, Game One probably helps the Magic more than hurts them going forward, because it probably feeds into the Lakers and their history of over-confidence.
In fact, during Game Two, the Lakers responded to their Game One win by starting the game both sloppy and lazy. They didn't tighten up their play until the very end of the fourth and overtime. The fact that they got away with it with a win will probably will result in the Lakers getting more over confident and playing with the same lack of intensity for Game Three and possibly the rest of the Finals.
Thus, if the Magic can continue to play hard, they definitely have a puncher's chance the rest of the series.
The second factor is that both games took place in LA which in other words means that the Lakers had home court advantage. This is huge because it helped cover up any drops in energy that the Laker role players might have had as the crowd did their best to pump them right back up.
Not only will that not happen in Orlando for Game Three, the opposite is true: this time around the Magic role players are the ones who will feed off the crowd's energy and finally play in familiar surroundings during the Finals. This should result in the Magic hitting more open shots and being more focused on defense.
Speaking of home court advantage, as long as Orlando takes care of business at home—just as the Lakers did in Games One and Two—they only have to win one game in Los Angeles. Besides, it isn't as if there isn't recent precedence for the Magic to take comfort in.
In 2006 the Miami Heat came back from an even worse hole (considering how they played the first three quarters of Game Three) to win it all—albeit with a little help from the refs (but it's not like the refs have improved enough for that to no longer be possible.) So, nervous Orlando fans can feel better by knowing they aren't sure goners this year.
Plus, it isn't as if this Laker team is that rock solid either. Indeed, for all the celebration over Kobe's hunger and drive to get that fourth ring, this didn't stop these very same Lakers from collapsing last year to the initially underdog Boston Celtics. It didn't stop them from squandering a 3-1 lead to the Phoenix Suns in 2006 either. In fact, the presence of the great, clutch Kobe Bryant didn't stop the Lakers from getting blown out during the final game of either series.
So clearly the Magic are still in it despite the 2-0 lead for the Lakers. However, Game Three is a must win for Orlando. So, what can the Magic do to ensure a win?
- Return Rafer Alston to his normal rotation minutes from the Cleveland series. If you insist on giving team captain Jameer Nelson minutes, then let him take Anthony Johnson's minutes alone. Alston is too sensitive to have his minutes tinkered with and play effectively. However, if you keep his well defined role that was established in the Cleveland series, you will see a return of a point guard who at the very least is capable of dominating his match up against Derek Fisher.
- If Kobe insists of relying almost completely on his jumper, then keep Hedo on him during the end game if Pietrus is out of the game. Lee is too small to guard Kobe or affect his shot, so limiting his minutes is not a bad thing, even if Pietrus is in foul trouble. Kobe is too fast for Hedo, but if he simply settles for his jumper over and over, then Hedo has the length and strength to not be posted up and bother Kobe's vision.
- Howard must choose if he will pass or shoot quicker once he gets the ball. His habit of dribbling a bit in the post before he chooses an action allows the Lakers to establish their delayed double teams and harass him into turnovers. Elite players, which Howard apparently is based on his 1st team All-NBA status, can handle a double team much better than Howard has so far. For one thing, a double team should not be enough of a reason to constantly pass out of it. If Shaq passed out of every double team given to him, then he wouldn't have scored once in the NBA. Its time Howard earned his max paycheck this NBA finals.
- Involve Andrew Bynum in pick and rolls because he over helps and gets exposed once the Magic swing the ball and then hit Bynum's original assignment.
- Just do the little things by giving Howard help by rebounding better, chasing down the loose balls, and hitting open shots as Magic players other than Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu shot less than 35 percent in the game.
- Call more plays for Pietrus and Courtney Lee because the first step to a more open offense is diversification.
If the Magic do enough of that, they will come away with a Game Three win and complete the first step to winning this series.
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