Alrighty, then. I’ll try to get some Magic Illuminati around here to do a proper preview sometime in the next two days, but here’s my first crack at one:
First things first, let’s talk a little bit about Boston. I have a lot of respect for what that team did this postseason. (By the way, can we stop calling them our “rivals?” Every team that beats you in a playoff series and/or happens to be good at the same time as your team is doesn’t automatically become your rival. The only team I get more pumped up to play regardless of the implications of the game are the Wizards, and look how much has had to happen to create bad blood there. Laker fans are evil and I get more pumped up to play them, but that’s not really a rivalry, either.)
There’s not a lot of teams who could compete hard in 14 grueling playoff games coming off a championship season with a veteran team without their best player. There was no quit in that team, and they weren’t afraid to come up big in the clutch and won more than a few games that they had no business winning, and we got a “breakout” playoffs from Rajon Rondo, who’s going to be a reason to watch the NBA for a long time.
I know a lot of Cavs fans wanted the Celtics, because they’re the more battered of the two teams and it would be a chance to avenge last year’s defeat and would have pretty much put the entire roster into destroy mode, but that team would have been far from an easy out-they play tough defense, have three guys who can take over offensively, and that crowd would have been absolutely bananas.
Just before I get to anything else: the Boston crowd was CLEARLY louder and more energetic with their team trailing almost the entire game than the LA crowd was with the Lakers leading wire-to-wire.
So, The Magic.
Part 1: What We Can Learn Or Disregard From the Season Series
The season series went along home-court advantage lines, with the Magic taking both games in Orlando by double-digits and the Cavs pulling off a fourth-quarter comeback aided by a LeBron 28-footer, two clutch free throws, and a controversial three-second call in the final minute to pull out a nailbiter at the Q. While regular-season series are far from perfect indicators of how things are going to go in the playoffs (see: the Cavs sweeping their regular season series with the Spurs in 2007), sometimes you can pick up on things that might manifest themselves in the playoffs or things that might have made the game an abberation. Let’s go through it:
Game 1: Cavaliers@Magic, January 29th
Here’s my recap at the time. (BTW-I have never regretted giving my recaps “kooky” sub-titles until right now)
Things that could repeat themselves:
Howard was absolutely destroying whoever the Cavaliers had on him when they tried single-coverage-people have been calling out his individual post play, and rightfully so to an extent, after the Celtics series. But remember that Perk is one of the best individual post defenders in the league, and not everyone can get Dwight that far away from the basket for his hook shots. Z doesn’t have anywhere near the lateral quickness to keep up with Dwight when he pulls a little Malone move and faces up or gives a quick drop-step or spin, Andy will get bullied, and Ben might not have enough in his knees to keep up. Dwight’s offensive prowess will be discussed at length over the next couple of days, but remember that he’s very capable of being an individual offensive force.
LeBron put up a 23/8/8 in this game, but it was one of his worst scoring games of the year. He needed 27 shots to get his 23 points, only got to the line three times, went 3-13 from outside of the paint, and was forced into taking quite a few slop shots when he tried to get to the rim but couldn’t quite get the corner.
A huge problem in all the playoff series we’ve lost has been LeBron meeting a wall in the paint when he tries to drive and being unable to deal with it-this was the best defensive team in the league in the regular season, and Dwight is the best help-side defender in the league. Whether he can do what KG, Rasheed, and Duncan did in the Cavs’ three previous playoff losses is probably the storyline to watch from an Xs-and-Os standpoint in this series.
Neither Turkoglu or Rashard was really able to get it going in this game, as the two combined for 38 points on 38 shots.
The scaries thing about this game was that the Cavs lost fairly handily without any real red lights in the typical “variables”-they shot 7-14 from three against 11-31 from the Magic, they turned it over 6 times to the Magic’s 11, and shot 20 free throws to the Magic’s 18. This was really just the Magic fully out-executing the Cavaliers at both ends of the floor, which is a bad harbinger.
Things that probably won’t repeat themselves:
Most importantly, this was a game both Z and Delonte were injured for, which will make an absolutely gigantic difference, and Jameer went for 18 points on 11 shots. And there was no Joe Smith. So those are things that make this game hugely different.
Mitigating circumstances: Hickson and Wally both had great games, combining for 27 points on 15 shots, and neither Gortat or Redick were in the lineup for the Magic. So those are things on both sides that bode well for the Magic in terms of who’ll be playing.
Not only did LeBron have a terrible game, but Mo went 4-15 from the field. Mo will probably have his bad offensive games in this series, and LeBron actually might as well, but it’s unlikely both will be so off on the same night again, especially with Rafer Alston checking Mo instead of Jameer.
Game 2: Magic @ Cavs, March 17th
My original recap for the game is here.
Things could repeat themselves:
The law of averages more or less went to work on the teams’ two best players in this game-LeBron had maybe his best game of the year, getting to the line 5 times, drilling 4 of 7 threes, getting to the rack, absolutely taking over during crunch-time, and finishing with a 47/12/8 and getting 4 steals to boot. Even so, the Magic were able to entice LeBron into shooting 19 jumpers out of his 27 field goal attempts, which is a little higher than his normal proportion of jumpers, so he wasn’t quite doing whatever he wanted offensively even in this game. When LeBron is drilling his jumpers, he’s unstoppable. This we already knew.
Meanwhile, Dwight came back down to earth; while he was great defensively and on the boards, he finished with 13 points on only 8 shots, which is not the type of effort that you expect from an MVP candidate, and was completely invisible down the stretch.
Delonte and Z were back, but neither did that well, with each finishing with 8 points and 10 shots. Mo was also off, with 21 points on 20 shots and only three assists.
Turk and Rashad again failed to hurt us, with 22 points on 27 shots.
Courtney Lee and Alston were drilling everything they looked at, on the other hand, getting 42 points on 29 shots.
No Redick again, and Gortat didn’t get a point in his 9 minutes. When did Gortat start looking so good?
Things that probably won’t happen again:
Nothing shocking except for some law-of-averages stuff; Rashard and Hedo are better than they played, and Lee and Alston are worse, and LeBron can’t do that every game, while Dwight will generally make more of an offensive impact.
Game 3: Cavs @Magic, April 3rd
My original recap is here.
Things that could repeat themselves:
Seeing as to how we got completely blown out in this game, you’d hope this section will be short, right? The good news is that this was such a thorough blowout it almost can’t be taken seriously; there’s just no way this team is going to get manhandled that badly if they come with playoff intensity, and this was a physically and mentally worn team after a gritty 13-game win streak followed by a huge letdown loss against the Wizards.
More of LeBron not really getting to the rim as much as he wanted: only 3 of his 20 attempts from the field were layups or dunks, although he did shoot 10 free throws and it’s understandable he might have started trying for home runs a little with the team down.
More of Delonte and Z failing to show up: 15 points on 17 shots combined.
Mo also not there: Only 10 points and 2 assists.
Rashard and Hedo found there strokes in this game, too.
Pretty much everyone on the Cavs played badly and everyone on the Magic played well.
This was pretty much the middle ground for Dwight offensively: 20 points on 13 shots and 8 free throws.
Mo, Delonte, and Z never really got it going in any of the games. Delonte and Z didn’t really get their post-injury swaggers back until quite late in the year and were out for the first one, so hopefully that’ll ultimately be a point in the Cavs’ favor in the actual series. Mo hasn’t really been all that consistent in these playoffs, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can step it up in this series.
This team did have success with keeping LeBron from getting the looks he wants, but LBJ has been on another level in these playoffs and is generally not a guy you want to bet anything against right now. Even still, this is probably the defense most capable of really challenging him, so it’ll be fascinating to see him and Howard meeting at the rim in an “unstoppable force/immovable object” type of way.
Hedo and Rashard pretty much matched up with what I thought: they’ll have a big game or two, but I don’t expect them to really kill us with the defenders we can match up on them.
Dwight was fully Goldilocks offensively: one good game, one bad game, one in the middle. We’ll discuss his offense much more in the coming days.
Alright, have at it with your opinions below: we’ll hopefully have all of you fully prepared for the series over the next couple of days. Get excited, everyone.