|2009 NBA Eastern Conference Finals|
|Orlando leads, 3-1|
|May 28th, 2009|
|Quicken Loans Arena|
|Rafer Alston||PG||Mo Williams|
|Courtney Lee||SG||Delonte West|
|Hedo Turkoglu||SF||LeBron James|
|Rashard Lewis||PF||Anderson Varejao|
|Dwight Howard||C||Zydrunas Ilgauskas|
The Orlando Magic clinched their last two playoff series wins on the road, and in unexpected fashion. Nobody expected them to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers without Dwight Howard, who missed the game due to a suspension for elbowing Sixers center Samuel Dalembert in the head in Game 5. Nobody expected them to defeat the Boston Cetics, injury-depleted as they were, in a Game 7 in Boston. And certainly nobody expects them to close out the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team with the NBA's best overall record, best home record, and best player, away from Amway Arena tonight.
So we're about to find out if lightning can strike thrice for Orlando, so to speak. The Magic handled the Cavaliers on Tuesday despite Cleveland's playing its best game of the series. The Cavs' offense kept the ball moving and Orlando's defense guessing in the first half, a large reason for their taking an 8-point lead into the dressing room at the half. Were it not for the curious decision to revert to past iterations of their offense, which involve James over-dribbling before taking a contested jumper as his teammates stand idly by--what is it they say about old habits?--they might just have escaped Orlando with a win and thus a knotted series. And Cleveland, John Hollinger suspects, can live with Rafer Alston and Mickael Pietrus (a combined 11-for-23 on three-pointers in Game 5) lighting them up if it means fewer shots for Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, and Rashard Lewis. A few more post-ups for LeBron James and Delonte West offensively, and the same sound defensive effort that kept the ball out of Howard's sizable hands for most of Game 4, and Cleveland may just live to fight another day. Saturday at "The Am," to be specific.
Then again, there's an old axiom about letting sleeping dogs lie. And the Magic, for the most part, have been sleeping dogs. They have not done much boasting during this series. So, as the Orlando Sentinel reports, when they arrived at Quicken Loans Arena for their shootaround today and saw every clock in the building set to 1.0 seconds--the amount of time left when James hit his game-winning three-ball in Game 2--they were probably woken up a bit. And probably not too happy about that little tweak. But maybe the person responsible for setting the clocks just has a great sense of humor. Maybe he's reminding the Magic of how many times Cleveland has beat them in this series, or how many more wins the Magic need to advance to the Finals, or the number of Cavs players to exceed 18 points per game in this series. You know, that sort of thing.
If you ask Howard his keys to the game, he'll give you the Magic's party line about energy, defense, and rebounding. Thing is, he's right, particularly with respect to the second point. Containing James' supporting cast hasn't been much of a problem in this series, but role-players tend to perform better at home, so the likes of West, Daniel Gibson, and maybe Mo Williams could be in for better games. "The Q" is a notoriously difficult place to play--TNT analyst Kenny Smith told Shannon Owens it's "definitely no. 1" in terms of crowd excitement--but the Magic can handle it. If they've proven anything over the course of these playoffs, it's that they're up to any challenge.
The game tips at 8:30 on TNT.