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By Jim Coffman
It will take a Herculean effort for Orlando to win the NBA Finals now. After dropping a dramatic Game 2 in overtime Sunday in Los Angeles, the Magic will have to win four of five games (the first three of which will be played in Orlando this week) to pull out the best-of-seven series. I'm dispensing with the 'if necessary' codicil at the end of a reference to the third of those three games (game 5) because Orlando will win at least one off the first two games to at least force that contest. But the Lakers are looking very good to wrap this up in five or at the most six games.
His teammates have proven capable of bursts of hot shooting at just about any time throughout this post-season. Some observers have noted that can't last forever but when Orlando executes its offense; there are almost always wide open trifectas to be had and guys like Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu to have them. It is a lot easier to keep the shooting percentage in the stratosphere when all the shots are in rhythm off good passes.
On the other hand, when Howard doesn't pass out of double teams he becomes Mr. Turnover. And while Orlando had a shot to win at the end of regulation (coach Stan Van Gundy drew up a perfect inbounds play with :00.6 on the clock, leading to a long inbounds pass to rookie guard Courtney Lee and a relatively high degree of difficulty layup attempt that bounced off the backboard, the rim and out), the turnovers killed the visitors on this night.
That and the fact that Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol made just enough plays to win. Can you even watch these games, John Paxson, knowing that Pau Gasol could have been yours for the low, low price of Luol Deng? And a few other player/picks and money I realize but still, not doing everything you could to get the guy - first and foremost convincing Jerry Reinsdorf to pay a little luxury tax - was devastatingly dumb.
I'm rooting for Orlando but I couldn't care less about the Magic, and I have plenty of company. ESPN.com's Bill Simmons has written about desultory crowds at Orlando games earlier this season (when the Magic was tearing it up) for goodness sake, let alone seasons where the Magic had nowhere to go but up. When the team last made the finals in 1994, I actively rooted against it because I didn't want Horace Grant - who had signed with the club as a free agent the off-season before after winning three titles with the Bulls - winning one more championship than Michael did. I felt the same way about Portland when it made the Western Conference finals in 2000 or 2001 with Scottie Pippen but then lost to the Lakers at the beginning of the Shaq-plus-Kobe three championship run.
This year my rooting interest has to do with Bryant, i.e., I'm rooting against him. I'd probably root against the Lakers even if Bryant wasn't on the team, but the Lakers and Bryant continue to be a killer combination. ESPN's analysts have been trying to sell the hokum that Kobe has finally figured it out this year, that he has finally started to be a good teammate, doing something other than pumping up himself and his stats. And in the first game of the Finals you had to give it to him. Bryant finished with 40 points, sure, but more impressive were eight rebounds and eight assists! A gigantic game. But it will take a great deal more than one game to start to truly change the perception of Kobe as the poster child for selfishness in the NBA.
In case I wasn't completely convinced that Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson are a great team on the mikes, Game 2 sealed the deal. The trio was seriously informative and seriously funny throughout the broadcast on ABC. Whether it was Breen talking about "the human time of calling a timeout" (announcers have long irritated me by just talking about what is on the clock when a player gains possession - they still have to go through the motions of calling a TO and that takes time) or Van Gundy noting that J.J. Redick "has to drive to score" to name just a few, these guys are a delight for an intense basketball fan. The Finals are worth watching just to listen to them.
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