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

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