View From Orlando

Kurt —  June 6, 2009

Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic
I wanted to get a feeling for what the people in Orlando are thinking after game one, so I reached out to Zach from Orlando Magic Daily and he kindly answered a few questions. (Follow the link and read my answers to his questions as well, too.)

1) What is the mood of Magic fans after that win? Is this a case where it is seen as an off shooting night, or are there concerns that there are more serious problems in this matchup?

The last few days in Orlando have been unreal. There are Magic banners on buildings, flags waving from cars, “Go Magic” on restaurant signs… The city has never cared this much about its basketball team. There are heaps of new fans that gradually came on board as the Magic beat the Celtics and Cavs. And after last night’s blowout loss, Magic fans were put in their place. I think a lot of new fans received a wake-up call that the NBA isn’t a big party.

The long-time fans are disheartened for sure — but we understand that it’s a seven-game series. Even though there are several factors going against the Magic (such as Phil Jackson being 43-0 when winning game 1, or no team ever winning the championship after losing Game 1 by 25 points, or the Lakers getting the best of virtually every matchup in Game 1), the series is anything but over. And I still feel like if the Magic can take a couple of games, the Lakers might start feeling the pressure of expectations and turn against each other. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

One thing’s for sure — the Magic aren’t going to shoot that badly or play such an uninspired brand of defense again. The question is, can the Magic find a way to stop Kobe and the Lakers? When the Lakers went big, Rashard Lewis was seriously exposed by Pau Gasol. I don’t know if there’s any one way to fix that problem. And Dwight has been in foul trouble for seven consecutive games now, and as long as the Lakers keep attacking him I don’t see how that trend will change. The fouls are definitely on his mind, and his unwillingness to pressure Kobe allowed No. 24 to shoot uncontested jumpers all night long.

2) Jameer Nelson. You mentioned before the series you had concerns about playing him, but now the Magic are pretty much committed to it. So how do you handle it? What do you do to get the most out of him?

I don’t want to be that guy, but it turned out exactly how I feared. If you remember, I was worried that once he stepped onto the floor, it’d be hard to sit him down because he’s the unquestioned leader of this team and a Kobe-like competitor. That’s exactly what happened. After he played great for five minutes in the second quarter, Stan Van Gundy left him out there until halftime and Nelson fell victim of rust, conditioning and an overall lack of chemistry. You can’t take your all-star point guard and expect him to be a backup. It looks good on paper, but it just doesn’t work out in real life.

That said, the Magic are committed to him. I expect one of two things. Either he starts getting more minutes than Rafer Alston and takes control of the team, or the Magic shut him down. There is no in between. There’s no 15 minutes off the bench to provide energy — especially not after he played 23 minutes in Game 1. If I was a betting man, I’d say he continues to come off the bench and will split time with Alston in the next game. As the series goes on, Nelson will go up above 30 minutes and become “the man.” If that’s a good thing, I don’t know. Nelson lives on the outside shot, and he didn’t have it last night. I don’t know if something will suddenly click and he’ll start stroking outside jumpers.

SVG historically doesn’t change starting lineups in the middle of a series, so Nelson definitely won’t be in the starting lineup anytime soon.

3) What other adjustments do the Magic need to make for game two? What needs to be done defensively (on Kobe in particular)? What about getting Dwight going in the paint?

Clearly, the Magic were befuddled by the Lakers’ pick and roll. The Lakers continually picked Bryant’s defender with Dwight Howard’s man (usually Gasol), and Howard was unwilling to stray far enough from the hoop to crowd Bryant and take away the open mid-range jumper.

If Stan Van Gundy is good at one thing, it’s making adjustments from game to game. We saw it against Philly, Boston and Cleveland, as he outcoached Tony DiLeo, Doc Rivers and Mike Brown (even if outthinking those three is like making a dog think you have a treat) to series victories. The Magic will surely work on defending the schemes executed by L.A. for the next couple days, and they’ll have an answer. Of course, the Lakers will have some adjustments of their own.

On Dwight, I thought he did OK offensively. The Lakers were sagging down on him and he usually made the smart pass to an open shooter. The shots just weren’t falling.

Thanks to Zach for the insight.

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Just a few links to check out as well.

• Jordan Farmar is hosting an online raffle to win tickets, airfare and hotel accommodations in Orlando to Game #4 of the NBA Finals (June 11th). Proceeds will benefit The Jordan Farmar Foundation. The online raffle will take place at netraffle.org. Tickets cost $2.00 each with a minimum purchase of five tickets. That’s $10 for the chance to go to Orlando, and the money goes to a good cause. Doesn’t get more win-win than that.

• Great stuff from Andrew & Brian at the LA Times Lakers Blog talking with assistant coach Jim Cleamons about all the pick and roll the Lakers ran. And keep checking those guys out, they are killing it these playoffs.

• Over at his blog, regular commenter here Design Edge has a great tribute to Magic Johnson.

• Great post comparing Kobe Bryant and Larry Bird.

Kurt

Posts

24 responses to View From Orlando

  1. I’d like to hear what Laker (and Magic) fans think of Phil’s 43-0 record when leading a series 1-0. What does it mean? I can think of several prosaic explanations, but the prettiest one speaks to the idea that Phil’s adjustments over the course of a series are superior to that of his opponent– i.e., the longer the series goes, the more the variation between his coaching skills and his opponents works to the Lakers (or Bulls) benefit.

    Does anyone else have an explanation? A more prosaic one would be essentially the opposite reason: that Phil usually has a demonstrably better team– i.e., the same reasons why his team wins game one result in them winning at least 3 of the next 6: they’re superior.

    I’m wondering if anyone else has a theory about this or, alternatively, if someone can place this seemingly remarkable statistic in the context of other coaches/general reliabilty of a game one victory.

  2. Whoa, I’m number one! First time, baby!

  3. Perhaps it demonstrates Phil’s steady hand, not overreacting to any given situation, coupled with superior preparation skills…

  4. We played great this last game, they did not. What are the chances our boys turn into the laid back team we saw from the Houston series?

    http://kaliphornya.wordpress.com/2009/06/05/no-time-to-relax/

  5. I think it can basically be attributed to the fact that Phil will find a way to win when he’s supposed to win (has the superior squad). In other words he will at least not be out-coached or stunned by the wizardry of another coach’s adjustments.

    Game 1 is both a statement game and an exploration game. Teams feel each other out and we get to see which team has the upper hand in terms of personnel. After a game 1 loss the opposing team’s coach will go back to the drawing boards and try a clever yet unconventional strategy to throw the superior team off its game.

    I think Phil is very good at:
    1) Establishing his team’s persona and sticking with it.
    2) Devising counter-moves against the opposing coach’s adjustments.

  6. “ven if outthinking those three is like making a dog think you have a treat”

    Great line, Zach.

  7. Zach made a great point that I’d never heard before – about Jameer’s personality making him ill-suited to playing 15 minutes.

    lil pau – That’s a really interesting question. Phil obviously does make some solid to great between game adjustments, but to be honest I believe it’s due to 2 main factors:

    1) Phil’s top-level teams are usually just better than the opposition. Game 1 is usually a sign of a larger trend; the guy’s coached dynasties. For Phil’s underdog teams (06-07), he rarely wins Game 1’s.

    2) Phil Jackson’s style does not allow let downs (until perhaps this year). He keeps his teams supremely prepared. It’s also a reflection of his personnel – Michael’s ferocity wouldn’t allow let downs, and Phil’s older teams typically had a lot of veterans.

    So IMO when Phil takes Game 1, he normally has the superior team, and his style rarely allows his team to relax and be upset after taking a first game. This last Game 1 was different in that the Magic just had one of their worst games (even without the help of our D). So, to me, Game 2 will really signal if the Lakers are markedly better than the Magic.

  8. That article was good but it didn’t approach the one question I wanted it to. So I throw this out to those who saw the entire careers of both of them:

    Who was better – Kobe or Bird?

    It’s hard because there’s so many ways to define greatness, but it’s fun to discuss. I’ve heard passionate opinions on both sides, just curious what people here think.

  9. Sorry for the multiple posts, but David Friedman is king. Great read here:
    http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/

    This may be an odd musing, but I suspect Kwame Brown would actually be fairly successful at guarding Dwight Howard. He was always a solid individual post defender, and according to Drew he has the strength:
    http://lakers.freedomblogging.com/2009/06/06/bynum-suggests-dwight-howards-no-stronger-than-kwame-brown/18373/

    Via Truehoop, this is a phenomenal look at the 0.4 shot by Brian Tung, who I believe comments here often:
    http://thenullhypodermic.blogspot.com/2009/06/infamous-fisher-04-shot.html

    That’s some top-notch analysis right there. Everything down to previous studies on human reaction time is included.

  10. Lakers are 2-0 in the playoffs this year when they wear their Sunday whites. Could be the last home game of the year.

  11. “Even though there are several factors going against the Magic (such as … no team ever winning the championship after losing Game 1 by 25 points…”

    Hey, Zach… Check out what happened in Game 1 of the 1985 Finals. It might make you feel better about history’s reflections on Orlando’s chances this series.

    Then again, maybe it won’t. the Lakers had three Hall of Famers on that roster, and most of their key guys had previously won NBA rings. The Magic can’t make the same claim, so drawing on experience won’t be the way that team can climb out of its hole.

  12. The Dude Abides June 6, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    11. Four Hall of Famers, actually. You’re forgetting the ‘Doo.

  13. More on the question of Phil’s record:

    Thinking about it for awhile, and God knows I have little else to do while waiting for sunday afternoon to get here at last, perhaps it would be more impressive if Phil had a great historical record in series in which his team LOST game one.

    as opposed to the existing scenario, this would suggest:

    1. his team was quite possibly an underdog coming in (less likely they had HCA which must certainly correlate with a game one win).

    2. strategy played a larger role as the series progressed, as opposed to ‘raw talent’, whatever that means (of course, this seems impossible to isolate– how would one discount: the success or failure of the initial strategies for game one, injuries, fatigue, an anomalous game one win, etc.?)

    3. that there was less likely a dominating talent advantage for the Jackson-coached team. (A team that sweeps four easy games, like the Lakers against NJ, is more likely about the team’s superiority that about coaching subtleties, unless one believes that coaching makes a greater difference than is commonly held to be the case. Alternatively, if the team loses game one, then comes back to win, that would suggest at the very least that the team is, if not inferior, at least competitive with its opponent.)

    Anyone out there with a better handle of stats (or logic) than I have?

  14. 16 hours 2 minutes to go . . .

  15. The Jameer/Rafer thing is already a huge distraction for Orlando and maybe the biggest storyline of the series. Sitting Alston for the entire 2nd quarter was a horrific coaching mistake by SVG. What message does that send to your starting point guard that just got you to the Finals? Chemistry killer.

  16. Phil Jackson’s playoff series record is 50-8. Meaning he has won 50 of the 58 playoff series he has played. So, basically any statistic you take out of that, the numbers are going to be good. For example, if you look at number of playoff victories when he has won Game 2, that is probably going to be really good as well.

    Also to note, of the 58 series, 42 he had HCA, so for 42 series he really had the better/favored team.

    I think we are trying to give a lot more meaning to the 43-0 stat than there really is. He is a great coach and he wins playoff series more often than not. And winning game 1 gives that added advantage, especially when you have the better team.

  17. sorry for the double post. I meant “50 of 58 playoff series he has *coached*”

  18. A friend of mine passed along this video of the most lopsided first quarter the Lakers have ever played. Too young (and too “being able to only watch European television”) to have watched it back then, but man is this demoralizing:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwdRWIwCEPo&feature=related

  19. Well said # 5

    >> I think it can basically be attributed to the fact that Phil will find a way to win when he’s supposed to win (has the superior squad). In other words he will at least not be out-coached or stunned by the wizardry of another coach’s adjustments.

    He’s had great teams, let’s no fool ourselves. And what makes his teams great has been the killer mentality when they’re up in a series.

  20. Since I’m so excited for tonight that I’m reading everything in sight, please let me also pass this interesting article by Lazenby along:

    http://blogs.hoopshype.com/blogs/lazenby/2009/06/06/its-that-old-zen-again/

  21. Hey Kurt, congratulations on making it into espn.com’s daily dime: http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/dailydime?page=dime-090607

    Right at the top of the page, no less.

  22. about kwame brown,

    yeah i kinda remember him having one of the best physiques in the team during his stay. That guy was pretty ripped.

  23. I think all that Phil’s 43-0 record means is he knows how NOT to screw up a good thing. When he has an advantage, he knows how to hold on to it and doesn’t get out-adjusted by the other coach.

    what’s his record when he’s down 0-1? I think that’s more relevant.

  24. New post up.

    And thanks Ian. I may find Hollinger today and rub it in his face my stuff was on top of his. Just to see how he reacts.