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Finals Game 4 Preview — The View from Orlando...


Look, let's be frank, shall we?

There's nothing I can say to set up Game 4 of the NBA Finals that you either (a) don't know already; or (b) won't be able to read in the various links presented in today's SS&R Credits column (below) or in Josh's preview of the game (below) or in the various Orlando links which follow this introduction.

From my perspective, this situation is all pretty easy: Lakers win, they are up 3-1 and are fairly definitely gonna be the next NBA Champions; Lakers lose, series is knotted 2-2 and we go best-of-3 for all the marbles, Lakers holding home court advantage.

Las Vegas was exactly right picking the last game as "Orlando by 4," and they have tonight's tilt as "Orlando by 2 or 2-1/2 points."

The teams are pretty evenly matched, we'll see what happens... We're done.

Now let's talk about something different.

The NBA draft is now less than 2 weeks away. What would you say if I were to tell you that there is a 6'4" shooting guard from Philadelphia, said to have the best shooting stroke in the entire draft, who has a decent chance at falling to the Laker's draft position at #29? Would that be news to you?

Intrigued? Just want me to shut the hell up so you can get to the Orlando links'n'leads?

Then click on through for more...

Here's the guy...



Wayne Ellington (6'4" SG, North Carolina, age 21) —





The draft involves a lot of conjecture and — if you're picking at #29, as the Lakers will be — a lot of luck. To some extent a team can "make their own luck" with trades, but that's probably not descriptive of the Lakers' situation this year.  Ellington, a veteran of the NCAA Champion UNC Tarheels, is said to be on the First Round/Second Round bubble. That's what you want to hear if you're Mitch Kupchak...

Another pure shooter from Philly in purple-and-gold? You never know.

Okay, on to the Orlando fare...



IT'S JUST MADNESS: It's difficult to figure out these Magic

by Mike Bianchi, Orlando Sentinel

You'll only make yourself crazy and end up looking like a fool.

I should know.

If I had a dollar for the number of column inches I've wasted trying to draw steadfast conclusions about the Orlando Magic, then Rashard Lewis would be my pool guy.

Speaking of Rashard Lewis, I wrote a column earlier in the playoffs that he wasn't earning his massive salary because he wasn't coming up big enough in big games.

I also wrote a column about Rafer Alston becoming a liability and the Magic desperately missing starting point guard Jameer Nelson.

And then there was that blog where I wondered about Stan Van Gundy's job security after Dwight Howard publicly second-guessed his coach following the Game 5 meltdown in Boston.

I repeat, don't even try to make sense of these guys.

Don't try to analyze their past performances.

Don't try to prophesize their future ones.

I feel especially bad for our West Coast media guests who have already been sucked into this Magic madness. After the 25-point loss in Game 1, columnist Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times cracked that he was picking "the Lakers in 3." Another West Coast wag, Marcia C. Smith of the Orange County Register, encouraged Lakers fans to prepare for a sweep and "buy more brooms."

To paraphrase the words of yet another L.A. columnist, the late, great Jim Murray: "Gentlemen (and ladies), start your mea culpas." * * *



Magic's Rashard Lewis Keeps Family Concerns to Himself

by George Diaz, Orlando Sentinel

We see them as high-paid mercenaries, guns-for-hire in an insular world where "economic downturn" is defined by the inability to purchase a Ferrari on the fly.

I'm not going to try to sell anybody on a "feel sorry" spin for professional athletes, but it's important to remember this:

They are sons. They are fathers. They are brothers.

Family matters, especially when your little girl is in the hospital and crying because she's got fevers, muscular pain and rashes. Family matters because your little brother has cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy and it hurts to the core.

Rashard Lewis kept quiet about all of this while struggling to deal with crisis, squared, in late April. While his more outgoing teammate Dwight Howard tweets away every day in cyberspace, Lewis doesn't go there.

He didn't use family issues as a crutch when his play fell flat, or when he was criticized for a sin many athletes are guilty of: Making Too Much Money.

Simple reason: More important things to worry about.

His baby girl, 1-year-old Gianna, is doing much better after dealing with a virus that baffled doctors and specialists. She has bounced in and out of the hospital while Lewis had to go about his business.

He feels for his brother, too. Dorian, 21, has cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy every few weeks in Houston, where he lives.

"It makes it a lot tougher because we're so busy playing, traveling and being away from the family," Lewis said. "When things start to go wrong with family, you want to be there as much as possible, but you can't always be there. You still have a job." * * *



Orlando Magic Point Guard Jameer Nelson Just Fine with Riding the Pine

by Brian Schmitz, Orlando Sentinel

Jameer Nelson essentially is using the largest event in the NBA as his minicamp.

The controversial Nelson experiment in the Finals hasn't gone the way the Magic had hoped. They haven't caught lightning in a bottle, much less a firefly.

He'll remain Rafer Alston's backup at point guard for Game 4 tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers, although Anthony Johnson might want to begin light stretching in the bullpen, just in case.

Coach Stan Van Gundy seemed to turn from optimist to realist on Wednesday when asked how much longer he can stick with Nelson if he continues to struggle in his comeback.

"Right now, I mean ... we're sort of down that road," Van Gundy said.

One more game? Two?

"It all depends," Van Gundy said. "We'll just have to read it as it goes."

There are four games, max, to go on this title run, and the Magic trail 2-1 in the series.

Van Gundy's hope is still this:

"What you hope, as it goes along, is Jameer gets in a little better comfort zone. I'm hoping we see that going into Game 4 and Game 5 and on," he said.

Trouble is, given the accelerated - or unrealistic - timetable, Nelson didn't improve in Orlando's 108-104 Game 3 victory on Tuesday night. He had more turnovers (3) than points (2) or assists (2) in just 11 minutes.

Bottom line for Van Gundy is that the Magic cut a five-point lead to one and held onto a seven-point lead during Nelson's two stints.

"I didn't think he played very well, but we got through it and Rafer had a real good night," Van Gundy said. * * *



If it's there ...

by the Orlando Sentinel Sports Staff

* * *
Alston once again finds himself being left open by the Lakers, a common theme for him throughout the postseason.

"It's almost embarrassing," he said. "I think that's the way I've taken it over the years. It's somewhat embarrassing that they're just going to keep leaving you open. ... Basically, a signal that, hey, that guy can't play, can't shoot."

A career .386 percent shooter, Alston torched the Lakers in Game 3 on 8-of-12 shooting for 20 points. His previous two games, however, he was 2-of-9 and 1-of-8.

The Magic shot a Finals record 62.5 percent in Game 3, but Alston said he and his teammates reminded each other in Wednesday's film session that the Lakers lost by only four points. L.A. also was hot, shooting 51.3 percent. * * *



Despite big win, do Magic fans have reason to worry?

by Andrea Adelson, Orlando Sentinel Magic BasketBlog

Any Magic fans out there feeling uneasy about the Game 3 victory? There should be cause for concern.

I know, I know, it was a great win for the Magic, their first NBA Finals win. Enjoy the victory, savor it. Not trying to be a Debbie Downer here, but at some point before Game 4, an examination of the facts might give you some pause.

The most glaring, of course, is the Magic shot an NBA Finals record 62.5 percent and ALMOST lost. Yes, I know the Magic ended up winning. But when you shoot that well, there is no way your opponent should be threatening to tie the game up in the final minute.

Here is the thing. The Magic played the best it could possibly play on offense. Five players scored 18 or more points. Dwight Howard had 21 points and made his free throws. When the defense collapsed on him, he was able to kick it out and his teammates finally nailed shots.

Rashard was on. Hedo was on. Rafer was on. MP was on. Will the stars align again for that to happen, and for the Magic to shoot over 60 percent? Highly doubtful. * * *

Even when the Magic were shooting an NBA Finals record 75 percent in the first half, it wasn't until the final 1:08 of the second quarter they took their first significant lead.

"They gave us their best shot and we only lost by four," Lakers forward Trevor Ariza said.

We'll see how it all plays out in Game 4.



Good Bye Shaq!

posted by "Blue-Blood" to Third Quarter Collapse

I've waited a VERY long time to be able to say . . .

"It gives me GREAT PLEASURE to declare your reign as Orlando's most accomplished superstar officially OVER!"

You once stated that "Everywhere Dwight Howard has been, I've been there." Well, with last night's victory in the finals you have been OFFICIALLY USURPED by a young superstar who's legacy here will FOREVER be greater than yours!

Dwight has now led his team to a finals victory, something you could NOT do and I believe he's far from being done.
Your ego and greed led you to abandon us in lue of shinier, flashier opportunities but your moment in the sun is now long gone. Dwight has not only filled your shoes, but he has also buried them deep in the Magic's closet.

Whether you ever admit it or not, the torch has been passed and Dwight Howard will always mean more to Magic fans than you ever did . . . And the best is yet to come!




Game 4 Adjustments: Lakers-Magic

by Philip Rossman-Reich, The Curse of the Big Aristotle

1. Control the glass. In Game Two, Orlando dominated the glass and it allowed the team to stay in the game despite poor shooting. In Game Three, Los Angeles got to the offensive glass and it allowed the team to stay in the game despite poor(er) shooting.

It is clear winning the rebounding battle is a key to winning this series. It has been the great equalizer so far in this series.

Orlando is not a team that commits itself to rebounding. It relies on Dwight Howard to do a lot of dirty work and he is often left alone in the pain on the offensive glass. With the Magic trying to pick up the pace in this series, they are committing less players to the defensive glass.

Granted, much of the Lakers' offensive rebounds came from fortunate bounces. But it is still difficult to justify the shooter getting his own rebound time and time again.

Orlando has to put in a much more concerted effort to get to the glass and secure rebounds. * * *

2. Continue attacking off pick and roll and work inside-out. It is the basis for the Magic's offense, but be sure the Lakers will find a new way to defend the pick and roll and make some adjustments.

Whatever Los Angeles throws at Orlando in Game Four, Orlando must continue to attack off the dribble in pick and roll and look to get into the paint. The great thing the Magic did in Game Three was not to settle for 3-pointers and drive to the basket.

Orlando shot only 14 three point shots, far below the 20 the team seems to take every game. This was not by accident. The Magic had plenty of looks from beyond the arc -- and plenty of open shots that rimmed out — but instead looked to get to the basket and keep moving the ball.

The Magic must keep this mentality. Three-pointers have to come from drives and dishes while the defense is trying to reset. * * *

3. Be physical. This was a key to the series, but it bears repeating. Orlando needs to be physical with Los Angeles.

The Magic did a great job forcing Bryant to the perimeter. He was looking to attack through jumpers and not by getting to the basket. That makes things easier for Orlando. Mickael Pietrus and Courtney Lee did a great job in Game Three. Expect Bryant to look to attack more Thursday.

Now the rest of the team must muscle up — especially Rashard Lewis. It is tough for Lewis to try and outmuscle Pau Gasol. But he has to find a way to push Gasol out of the paint on post ups. Gasol might be too tall an order to do this. * * *


The Bottom Line:

1. No pressure, just quiet confidence.

2. A win tonight and this thing is evened up.

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