Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Things weren't supposed to be this way. Not by a long shot. The NBA was supposed to come down to two teams, two men really: LeBron vs. Kobe. After all, the Cavs and Lakers finished the regular season with the two best records in the NBA, rolled through the competition to their respective conferences' No. 1 seeds, and it was destined — this year's MVP matched up against last year's MVP for all the marbles.
Someone forgot to tell the Magic and Nuggets to go along with the script. After Orlando's 116-114 overtime victory last night, the LeBrons are on the brink of elimination, down 3-1 to a Magic team that needed six games to put away the 76ers. And the Lakers, who were supposed to have a cakewalk to the Finals, are deadlocked 2-2 with a Denver team that is quite honestly pushing L.A. around.
Now it looks like Superman vs. Melo just may replace Kobe-LeBron.
If you watched last night's game, and game 3, and the whole series thus far really, you'll notice one big thing: The Magic are playing brilliantly as a team, while the Cavs are simply relying on LeBron to carry them through. The Cleveland team that once looked so much like a singular unit, with LeBron the clear leader, all the sudden looks like a team full of scrubs begging its superstar to do it all. LeBron is suddenly all alone, and even he is no match for the Magic.
And who would have saw that coming after Orlando struggled with, quite frankly, a not-so-good Sixers team? Not me. But this isn't the same Magic team that couldn't hit an open three if their life depended on it in the first round. No, this is the Orlando squad that challenged the Cavs and Celtics much of the season, the Orlando team that is lethal from three. The stroke is back, and Cleveland has no answers. None.
Dwight Howard has been a beast. The questions of his intensity, of his desire should be fading rapidly. Dude has been killing anyone and everyone Cleveland has thrown at him. Ilgauskas? Too slow. Anderson Varejao? Too small. Ben Wallace? Joe Smith? No chance. Dwight is eating their lunch.
Try doubling him. Go ahead. Look what happens. The Magic, already up 2-1, go bonkers from three. Skip to My Lou goes 6-12, Rashard 2-4, Turk 2-5, and Pietrus 5-11, as the Magic drain an absurd 17 threes on 38 attempts. That's 44.7 percent in case your counting. Even the superhuman LeBron can't do anything about that, especially when that big fella inside goes off for 27, 14 and 3, along with 4 assists that helped his teammates get those threes.
I was just reading in Sports Illustrated how Doc Rivers said if the Magic are hitting their threes, they're almost unguardable. He's absolutely right. With Dwight Howard posing a problem for anyone inside, you almost have to double him, meaning you have to leave one of the excellent three-point shooters on Orlando open. Pick your poison: leave Rashard, Hedo, Rafer, Pietrus, Lee? No option is a good option.
Just look at the numbers. LeBron continued to just play otherworldly basketball, dropping 44 points, 12 boards, 7 assists, a steal and block, but he was virtually all alone. Delonte West had a decent game, scoring 17 points on 7-15 shooting and dishing out 7 assists with no turnovers, but the rest of the Cavs were awful. Yeah, Mo Williams did get 18 points, but he shot just 5-15 and has really been a complete no-show for Cleveland in this series. No one else did dick.
Meanwhile, Howard got help from all over the place. Rafer kept pace with the big guy, playing by far his best game of the postseason with 26 points and those 6 threes. Rashard chipped in with 17 of his own, including a dagger of a shot down the stretch, Hedo added 15 points to go along with 7 boards and 8 assists, and Mickael Pietrus was a beast in the 4th quarter, draining treys to keep Cleveland at bay. He finished with 17 points on 5 threes and 2 free throws.
It's abundantly clear that right now, Orlando is the better team. No one is playing better basketball than LeBron, but suddenly the rest of Cavaliers look lost. And with Denver looking more and more like the aggressor beyond Kobe, these series are starting to mirror each other. If the Nuggets can pull it out tonight, the scenario would look identical: Denver playing much, much better as a team as Kobe plays the best, just like the Magic, collectively, are beating the insane level LeBron is playing at.
Everyone wanted to see LeBron-Kobe. What we just may get is Orlando-Denver. And that isn't a bad things. Seriously.
I just wish Jameer was healthy so he could be out there for the ride.