- Brian Schmitz notes how Orlando is "back" after winning Game 6 last night:
They're back from the basketball dead.
Fourteen long and frustrating years since making their first NBA Finals appearance — just six years removed from posting the league's worst record — the Orlando Magic are returning for a shot at the championship.
The Magic earned a trip to face the Los Angeles Lakers for the title by winning the Eastern Conference finals, ousting the Cleveland Cavaliers 103-90 in Game 6 on Saturday night at Amway Arena.
The NBA Finals opens in L.A. at Staples Center on Thursday night.
- Mike Bianchi explains how the Magic proved the critics and doubters wrong:
Say good night to LeBron vs. Kobe.
I'm not saying NBA and ABC were shamelessly rooting for a LeBron-Kobe matchup, but I think I saw league and network executives holding a voodoo ceremony in front of the arena Saturday, sacrificing goats and chickens and placing the blood around Van Gundy's parking space.
The Magic were supposed to bow down and kiss LeBron's Nikes. They were supposed to wear those "Witness" T-shirts under their game jerseys. They were supposed to put on a decent show like some club fighter facing the heavyweight champ and then take a dive on some phantom punch midway through the match.
The Magic were not supposed to win. They were never, ever supposed to win.
"Maybe now," Dwight said, "everybody will start believing in us."
- George Diaz talks about how Orlando played with no pr
A chance to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1995, taking on the No. 1 seed in the East, and laying siege to the conspiracy theories that the NBA was drooling over the anticipated dance party between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
"You guys like to talk about pressure," Pietrus said. "It's a game of basketball. They made the game to compete for the trophy. Every game is a dogfight."
"If you're telling me tomorrow I'm going to Iraq, I'd be under pressure. That's pressure. Basketball is what we like, what we share with 20,000 fans every night. It's fun."
He's exactly right.
- Kyle Hightower elaborates on how Rafer Alston's steady play aided the Magic in beating the Cavaliers to clinch the Eastern Conference Title:
Alston turned the page quickly Saturday night. He was a lot more patient and got the ball in Dwight Howard's hands early in the first quarter.
Unlike in Game 5, he was selective with his attempts, but remained active as he knocked down the Magic's first 3-pointer of the night.
It marked the fifth time in the series against the Cavs that he hit at least one trey and gave Orlando an early lead it never relinquished.
In his 38 minutes he showed nearly every facet of his game. He drove to the basket when the lane opened up late in the shot clock and kept his team on schedule in halfcourt sets.
- Andrea Adelson states how Cleveland is frustrated after losing last night.
- The Orlando Sentinel reveals
Nelson, despite earlier reports in which Otis Smith stated that 'Meer would not play iif Orlando advanced to the NBA Finals, may suit up after all. Don't get your hopes up, however:
Although Nelson wouldn't be in prime condition, Vander Weide said, "the chance to get an all-star point guard on the floor for 15 minutes a game ... you'd have to look at that."
The Magic had ruled him out for the season and the playoffs, and as late as a week and a half ago General Manager Otis Smith said there was no chance of Nelson making a return. "That was a week and a half ago," said Vander Weide, who said he wanted Nelson to take another MRI and consult with doctors.
- The following are the front pages of the Sentinel A1 and Sports sections ..
- Here is the NBA Finals schedule, between the Orlando Magic & L.A. Lakers:
Thursday June 4: Orlando at L.A. Lakers 9 p.m.
Sunday June 7: Orlando at L.A. Lakers 8 p.m.
Tuesday June 9: L.A. Lakers at Orlando 9 p.m.
Thursday June 11: L.A. Lakers at Orlando 9 p.m.
Sunday June 14: L.A. Lakers at Orlando 8 p.m. if necssary
Tuesday June 16: Orlando at L.A. Lakers 9 p.m. if necessary
Thursday June 18: Orlando at L.A. Lakers 9 p.m. if necessary
Want info. on when tickets go on sale for the Finals? Here's the scoop:
Following a pre-sale to Magic season ticket holders, single game tickets for the 2009 NBA Finals will go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 6.
Tickets available at that time can be purchased:
*Online at www.orlandomagic.com.
*At the Amway Arena box office (cash, MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover)
* At the Orlando Magic ticket office (Monday - Friday) (cash, MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover)
*At all TicketMaster outlets (cash only)
*By calling 1-800-4NBA-TIX (MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover)Full season tickets are also now available for next season. For information log on to orlandomagic.com or call 407-89-MAGIC.
- UPDATE: David Steele gives a rundown on how the Magic were able to win against the Cavaliers and become the Eastern Conference Champions.
UPDATE 2: Dwight Howard posts on his official blog today and is happy:
My whole thought process going in to last night’s game was to dominate and don’t let Cleveland breathe. We really felt like we should have closed this series out on Thursday up in Cleveland, but we let it slip away. I was going to make sure that didn’t happen this time, so I went at their bigs right from the jump.
I’ve been telling everybody that we have the team and the talent to do this. When we run, rebound and defend, there aren’t many teams out there that can beat us.
- For a Cavs perspective on Game 6, check out Cavs: The Blog, Fear The Sword, and WaitingForNextYear.
Click after the jump to see what the national media had to say about Game 6.
- Tim Povtak of NBA Fanhouse recaps last night's proceedings between the Magic and the Cavaliers.
Jay Mariotti of NBA Fanhouse offers his thoughts on Orlando's win over Cleveland:
It's time to salute the Magic, whose coach, Stan Van Gundy, has been ridiculed as a buffoon and whose superstar, Howard, has been ripped as one-dimensional and immature. A country's apologies are extended to both. Howard is only the best big man in the game, a defensive force and progressing offensive weapon who, remember, is just 23 himself. Yet he has had to endure taunts from O'Neal and shots from the national media as recently as two weeks ago, when he whined publicly about not getting enough shots and was aiming at Van Gundy when he said, "You've got a dominant player, let him be dominant." To Stan Van's credit, he didn't allow the uprising to be a distraction, and since the flareup, the Magic have won six of eight games against the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics and Team LeBron, which had the league's best regular-season record.
- Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop divulges that the Magic were able to defeat the Cavaliers, by (my favorite word) executing:
The Cavs and Magic each came into the series with a full playbook of good offensive material that worked all season -- which is why they're playing basketball in late May. The difference came down to which team better executed its stuff. Saturday night, it wasn't even close.
Game 6 was a full exhibition of Dwight Howard's best attributes. He got 40 touches in the paint -- a series high -- and his 40-point output included nine points off put-backs, 12 from the free throw line, sharp dribble moves, soft running hooks, and buckets in transition. He bullied his way to the rim at will, and Cleveland had no recourse to stop him.
As dominant as Howard was -- he chalked up twice as many points as Orlando's second-highest scorer -- the Magic's clincher was a collective effort offensively. What's striking about Orlando is how many different things they execute well offensively -- to say nothing of their top-ranked defense. Orlando gets a lot of praise for its pick-and-roll game, which is spearheaded by Hedo Turkoglu and Dwight Howard. Orlando is special in that everyone in their rotation can perform this part of the offense.
- Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don't Lie provides his thoughts on Game 6:
The Magic played well enough in this series to more or less convince the watching public that this conference finals -- despite Cleveland's home-court advantage, and despite Cleveland's superior regular season record -- was no fluke. It was no upset, and it was no choke job by the Cavaliers. The Cavs had what it took to down just about every team in this league by a sound margin, but they never had any answer for Orlando, who ended up taking six of nine contests (six of Cleveland's 20 losses overall) in the regular season and postseason.
Matchups were the key. Cleveland's offense revolved around James dominating the ball, finding others and putting teams into foul trouble. With Howard anchoring the middle, James didn't exactly fall short with his individual statistics in the series (even a substandard, for him, Game 6 left LeBron averaging an astounding 38.5 points per game in the conference finals), but his domineering presence alone wasn't enough to pile up the points and stops needed to take four of seven from the Magic.
Throw in an amoeba-like defense surrounding Howard that can get out on shooters and render pick-and-rolls useless, sound help in transition and plenty of defensive depth, and you have a six-game win. Even with the best player in the world playing the best basketball he's ever played.
- Matt Hayes of The Sporting News delves on how Dwight Howard's progression in the playoffs has surged Orlando to the precipice of winning an NBA Title, with four more wins.
Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated looks back at Superman's herculean effort:
They're going to the NBA Finals on a career playoff-best 40 points from 23-year-old center Dwight Howard, the long-awaited replacement for Shaquille O'Neal, who in his youth embodied the promise of the expansion Magic franchise when he led them to the Finals in 1995. One year later, Shaq was running off to win three titles with Los Angeles, and it just so happens now that the Lakers will be host when the Finals are launched Thursday.
In so many ways, Howard represents closure as well as renewed promise for a franchise that had no business expecting to go so far this season, especially when their young roster suffered a devastating season-ending injury to All-Star point guard and team leader Jameer Nelson. A midseason trade for Nelson's replacement, Rafer Alston, re-positioned the Magic to reach this conference finals, which turned out to be easy in comparison to the opening rounds against the 76ers (who led 2-1 before succumbing in six games) and the champion Celtics (who were up 3-2).
"I have seen Dwight dominate like this, but this is a huge game, man,'' said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "This is to get to the Finals, and he was incredible.''
If you've hung around Third Quarter Collapse for a while, you'll know that I like to say, after Dwight Howard has a dominant game, that he was in rare 'Optimus Prime' mode. Well, Dwight was in that mode last night.
I've seen Howard play since being drafted by Orlando and yesterday was, in my opinion, his best game in a Magic uni. With an NBA Finals appearance on the line, Dwight dominated from the opening tip to the final horn.
- Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm writes up his thoughts concerning Game 6:
In the first quarter, the Cavs came out as a team that expected Orlando to fold. You may have seen this sequence before in such spring blockbusters as "The Philadelphia Series Game 6″ and "The Boston Series Game 7." Here’s a hint, kids. Do not anticipate the Magic failing to arrive at the moment of their ascension. [...]
Things that amuse me. How people think Orlando’s ability to knock down clutch shots with defenders in their face is a liability. "You can’t depend on those shots." Really? Because they just did to win the freaking Eastern Conference. At one point are they not going to be there? Oh, yeah, that’s right. They weren’t there in the first round against Philly. This team’s had its cold streak. It’s ready to go. [...]
We’ll talk more about the Finals more, obviously. But tonight, let’s take a moment and congratulate an Orlando team that’s been disrespected all season, all postseason, and will be heavy dogs to a Lakers team they swept in the regular season. The Magic had several opportunities to quit, and responded each time.
- Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com shares his insight on Orlando closing out the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavaliers:
They don't call him Superman for nothing. Especially on a night when he shot 14-for-21 from the field and 12-for-16 from the line, handed out four assists when the Cavs were forced into triple-teaming him and sacrificed some of his defensive intensity for the good of the team, realizing that aggression in the paint would lead him into foul trouble.
Yes, he finished with five personals. But Howard was never in foul trouble when the game was still relatively tight. That allowed him to channel his energy toward being a dominant scorer who became deserving of his touches because he kept converting them. In Game 6, Howard had 52 touches, 40 of them in the paint, compared to 18 total touches in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston. In the entire Eastern Conference finals against Cleveland, he made only one shot from outside the paint while attempting only four.
- Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus analyzes yesterday's matchup:
Every time a postseason series goes counter to expectations, we face the problem of trying to determine whether it was a case of the winning team playing better than expected, the losing team underachieving or somewhere in between. It feels like this has been an issue more this postseason than ever, from the Lakers and Rockets going to seven games, to Orlando being tested by Boston, to the Magic now upsetting Cleveland. Maybe it's human nature, but it seems that more often than not the focus is more on what the losing team did wrong than what the winning team did right, which tends to be unfair to the team that is moving on.
Let's be clear on this point: The Orlando Magic played a brilliant Eastern Conference Finals. Something legitimately changed for Orlando between Games Five and Six of the series with the Celtics, sparked primarily by Stan Van Gundy's decision to emphasize the pick-and-roll game involving Dwight Howard. Combine that with lights-out three-point shooting, even from unlikely suspects like Rafer Alston (3-for-7 in Game Six) and Mickael Pietrus (4-for-7 last night, 17-for-36, .472, for the series) and defense that made Cleveland look inept, and the Magic earned this series victory.
The Howard we saw last night was a player entirely different from even the one who contended for MVP throughout the regular season. This time, he needed no help from the shooters around him or the pick-and-roll. Howard did his work early, establishing the kind of deep post position that translates into easy scores time and again. Even when he was forced further away from the basket, Howard showed the kind of touch that makes him potentially unstoppable. That was true at the free-throw line, where he made 12 shots in 16 attempts. This was the best offensive performance I've ever seen from Howard, and considering the context, almost certainly the best of his career.
- UPDATE 3: David Whitley of NBA Fanhouse asserts that it's time the national media & public believe in Magic.
Make sure to check out this post every few hours for updates.