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Finals Game 5 Preview (pt. 1) — The View from Orlando...


I do my best thinking early in the morning, right when I'm easing into full consciousness.

Well, okay, maybe not my best thinking... What I mean to say is my weirdest thinking...

My strange thought this morning was about Pau Gasol.

Pau is a natural Power Forward, right? He's in the discussion with Chris Bosh and Kevin Garnett and several others as among the top 4s in the league. You've probably had the thought before, made your own little rankings.

This morning it suddenly occurred to me that Pau really isn't a Power Forward at all — at least that's his second best position. Pau is a Center, what with Andrew Bynum missing 32 regular season games this year and playing under 29 minutes in the others and being in such constant foul trouble in these playoffs (just 17.4 minutes per game).

It's Pau's length and athleticism, his unnaturally soft hands, his quick little moves under the rim playing against other teams' Centers that makes him nearly without peers. He can hit the little 12 or 15 foot jumper, sure, but the truly excellent aspect of his game are the putbacks and baby hooks in close...

So if Pau Gasol is really the "best #2 player on any team in this year's playoffs," as the ESPN/ABC goombahs keep telling us — a legit NBA star — why don't we give the man his due?

The "best #2 player" this year, Pau Gasol, is a Center who has played some minutes at Power Forward.

Why is it that we talk about Yao Ming and Dwight Howard as the league's best Centers so much? Why are Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum the newcomers with the buzz?

Think about it: How many times has Phil felt compelled to bring in D.J. Mbenga to play Center when Bynum made his speedy exit for the bench, since there was no way that Pau Gasol could hold his own with Yao or Howard?


Pau Gasol is a legit Center and among the best at that position in the league.

Sometimes it takes me a while to figure really obvious crap like that out.

(Click on through for a passel of fun reading from the Orlando Basketball Cybersphere...)



Lots to Question in Magic's Finals Losses

by Brian Schmitz, Orlando Sentinel

* * *
L.A. leads Orlando 3-1 after the Magic treated Game 4 as a giveaway promotion at Amway Arena. You obviously have questions, and we hope our answers are more dependable than a Magic free throw.

Q: Is this thing over? Can we get back to watching Conan O'Brien or catching up on our sleep some place besides the office?

A: Sunday's game is on a work night, but it's practically a matinee, tipping off at 8 p.m. Conan O'Brien? Really? You've lost faith and don't believe the Magic can bring home the Larry O'Brien Trophy? If it were any other team, I'd tell them to reserve their cabanas in Cancun.

But why write off a return trip to L.A. after the Magic have won a Game 7 in Boston, denied the LeBron Puppet and won Game 3 after going down 2-0 to the Lakers? It wouldn't be a shock if they forced a Game 7.

Q: I've never had fruitcake nuttier than you. Seriously, no Finals team ever has come back from 1-3.

A: And your point? You think the Magic want the Lakers partying on their floor Sunday? You think they want to hear Kobe talk about how great it is to win without Shaq? The Magic have cracked the Lakers' Defensive Code. Since scoring just 75 points in a Game 1 loss, they're averaging 98.3 points and have lost two overtime games.

"It gives me a lot of faith," Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "The way these games have gone, it's not like we're in a situation where we can't play with the Lakers or don't have a chance to win. This is a very resilient team."
* * *



Magic, Stan Fail at Basics

by Mike Bianchi, Orlando Sentinel

If and when L.A. closes out the Magic to win the NBA championship, it will be portrayed nationally as the grand restoration of the storied Lakers, the coronation of Kobe Bryant as one of the greatest champions the game has ever known and the crowning of Phil Jackson as the most decorated coach in NBA history.

Nobody will argue with that glowing national assessment, but locally it will be a much more haunting, harassing conclusion. It will not go down as the 15th NBA title the Lakers will have won; it will go down as the championship — that elusive first championship — the Magic will have lost.

Even worse, they will have lost it by failing at the most basic of all basketball tenets: Hit your free throws, make your layups, coach with consistency and patience.

The Lakers now hold a 3-1 series lead — an advantage that has never been lost in Finals history. Call me a provincialist if you must, but the Magic could easily have a 3-1 lead if Dwight Howard made a free throw at the end of Game 4 and Courtney Lee hit an alley-oop layup at the end of Game 2. Not that those two misses are the only reason the Magic lost those games, but they perfectly illustrate the fine line between winning and losing.

Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy, too, has walked a fine line during these playoffs — a line between the mad-scientist coach concocting brilliantly unconventional lineups and the simply maddening coach making bafflingly inexplicable decisions.

Van Gundy has wrongly blamed himself after many Magic losses during the course of his spectacular two-year tenure as the greatest coach in franchise history, but Game 4 Thursday was a situation where he could have rightly blamed himself - but didn't.

Such is the walking, talking contradiction that is Van Goofy. I've said it once and I'll say it again, I love the coach's spontaneity and nonconformity, but there comes a time when you need some poise and patience. * * *



Jameer Nelson's Early Return Ruining It for Magic

by George Diaz, Orlando Sentinel

The morning after feels like one of those beer-bong binges in college where you wake up at the frat house with a throbbing headache, underwear on your head and cold pizza in your pants. Makes you say, 'Whoa, dude.'

Buzz kill. Forget the Advil. Pain ain't going away.

O-town hurts. The Orlando Magic went on a suicide run against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

Horrific to watch, the blood-splatter was everywhere: botched free throws, careless passes, defensive breakdowns and a catastrophic coaching meltdown.

Other than that, how was the game, Mr. Van Gundy?

Stan Van Gundy had done a superb job at shredding the sarcastic "Master of Panic" label that Shaquille O'Neal hung on him. Van Gundy, an Average Joe kind of guy with a self-deprecating style of humor, led the charge as his team rallied to beat the defending NBA champions on their home court, and then buried LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in six to advance to the Finals.

Life was good.

Then Jameer happened.

And Van Gundy had a brain freeze. His insistence on playing point guard Jameer Nelson for prolonged stretches in these playoffs is a Jeff Spicoli moment. As in: "Whoa, dude, what were you thinking?"

It's inexplicable, really. Even from press row, where the great unwashed have a look at things, it's easy enough to see that Nelson wasn't ready to roll in this, the biggest stage in the biggest games of the season.

He hadn't played in four months. He had limited contact in practice. What did you expect would happen when he came back? * * *



OT Thriller Between Magic and Lakers Produces More Great TV Ratings

by Andrea Adelson, Orlando Sentinel Magic BasketBlog

The Lakers' 99-91 overtime win over the Magic in Game 4 delivered another strong night of TV for ABC with a 10.9 overnight rating, the highest yet for the series.

If the 10.9 overnight rating holds, it will outpace the 2008 Finals between L.A. and Boston in viewership.

The 10.9 overnight rating was up 5 percent over last year's Game 4 between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers (10.4 overnight rating).

The game earned a 26.7 rating in Orlando, while it got a 27.3 rating in Los Angeles.



The Onion Pokes Fun at the Magic and Dwight Howard

by Andrea Adelson, Orlando Sentinel Magic BasketBlog

If you are still smarting over last night's Game 4 loss, then maybe you want to avoid reading this little brief from The Onion. If you want a chuckle to help stop those tears, maybe this will help.

Here is the headline. Decide whether or not you want to read it.

"Orlando Assistant Coach Patrick Ewing Counsels Dwight Howard On How To Lose NBA Title"

* * *



Orlando Assistant Coach Patrick Ewing Counsels Dwight Howard On How To Lose NBA Title

Onion Sports Network

ORLANDO, FL-Since the NBA Finals began, Magic assistant coach Patrick Ewing has been sharing his vast knowledge of how to lose the title with Dwight Howard, carefully but emphatically advising the center to concentrate on making crucial mistakes if he wants to put his team in the best position to lose.

"Dwight, if you want to misdominate this series, you have to get creative with those turnovers and be willing to commit stupid technical fouls," Ewing said Monday, encouraging Howard to expose his ballhandling deficiencies by dribbling as much as possible.

"You gotta be soft in the paint. You gotta waste energy. Let them push you around and box you out. And if you get the ball, drive as hard as you can toward the sidelines and look for the panic pass."

Ewing reportedly stayed after practice to help Howard work on throwing the ball away and missing free throws.



Mickael Pietrus to Receive No Further Discipline for Flagrant Foul at End of Game 4

by Josh Robbins, Orlando Sentinel Magic BasketBlog

Orlando Magic guard Mickael Pietrus won't receive any further discipline from the NBA for his flagrant foul against Pau Gasol in the closing seconds of Game 4, is reporting.

Pietrus slammed into Gasol's back with both arms as Gasol dunked with 3.4 seconds left in overtime to put Los Angeles ahead 98-91. Gasol then turned toward Pietrus and the two exchanged words, resulting in a double technical.

Flagrant fouls are reviewed the next day by the league, and Pietrus hypothetically could've received a suspension for Sunday night's Game 5 or a fine or a reclassification of the flagrant foul.

Pietrus is vital to the Magic because he provides scoring off the bench and he also defends Kobe Bryant one-on-one. * * *



Los Angeles Lakers 99, Orlando Magic 91 (OT)

by Ben Q Rock, Third Quarter Collapse (SBN)

In a heartbreaking turn of events, the Orlando Magic squandered a 5-point lead with 1:34 to play in the fourth quarter, and later a 3-point lead with 31.9 to play in the fourth, going on to lose Game 4 of the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers in disappointing fashion, 99-91. They now face a daunting 3-1 series deficit.

Derek Fisher hit the game-tying trey with 4.6 seconds to play as the Magic elected not to foul, and as Jameer Nelson inexplicably decided to play the sluggish veteran for the drive, rather than for the pull-up three.

The game wasted mostly excellent performances from Hedo Turkoglu (25 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists) and Dwight Howard (16 points, 21 rebounds, and an NBA Finals-record 9 blocks). However, those two accounted for 13 of the Magic's 15 missed free throws on a night when a) they went into overtime and b) they lost by 8. Howard clanked what would have been the two clinching free throws, which set the stage for Fisher's game-tying shot.

If you're a Magic fan, you don't need me to tell you how much this loss — if I may be frank — sucks. Going down 3-1 is bad enough, but to do so under these circumstances makes it that much worse. * * *



The Straw That Broke The Camel's Back?

by Eddy Rivera, Third Quarter Collapse (SBN)

Time and again, the Orlando Magic have been able to come back from adversity and overcome nearly insurmountable odds throughout the playoffs. I liken the Magic to a boxing prizefighter that fights back when its back is against the ropes.

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." It's a quote from Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III and that comment best describes Orlando.

In my opinion, of course.

Just when you thought the Magic were down and out, the team pulled themselves back in .. every time. Literally, every time in the postseason. We all know the story.

But it appears Orlando, barring the miraculous, may be down and out. People will say the Magic gave Game 4 away. Thing is, the Los Angeles Lakers had to take it from 'em. You have to believe Orlando will fight back the rest of the series. You expect it. That's been the team's calling card all year. But alas, it may not be enough. * * *



A Look at Stan Van Gundy's Biggest Decisions in Game 4

by Zach McCann, Orlando Magic Daily (True Hoop)

Stan Van Gundy made several controversial decisions in Thursday night's loss to the Lakers. Here's a look at the three biggest second-guesses from that contest.

1. Sitting Rafer Alston the last 18 minutes of the game in favor of Jameer Nelson.

Stan Van Gundy's rationale: "I thought we had a very, very bad third quarter, and then it wasn't so much one guy over the other, it was just we had a unit in the fourth quarter that I thought was playing real well. And then you get down to the point where Rafer hasn't played in 10 or 12 minutes. I thought it would be hard to bring him back." * * *

My take: I don't think this decision hurt the Magic as much as some other people seem to think. It's easy to question when the Magic lose, sure. But does Rafer Alston's presence certainly make a difference on the floor? * * *

2. Choosing to not foul Derek Fisher when he hit the game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds. There were 11 seconds when the possession began.

Stan Van Gundy's rationale: "We thought 11 seconds was too early, especially the way we were shooting free throws tonight. So we thought it was too early. ... I regret it now, but only in retrospect. I mean, normally to me 11 is too early. You foul, they make two free throws, you cut it to one. You're still at six or seven seconds."

My take: I hate to say it, but I'm with SVG on this one. Fouling with that much time on the clock is too risky, especially with the way Orlando was missing free throws. And timing the foul without allowing Fisher to shoot is tricky. Here's my main problem with this play: the Magic were in full-court press. Why were they defending all the way down the floor? It put Nelson in a situation where he was on an island against Fisher, who was running full speed. They should've packed it in for solid, half-court defense.

3. Playing Courtney Lee 7 minutes all night, and sitting Hedo Turkoglu in the fourth quarter.

Stan Van Gundy's rationale: No explanation.

My take: I understand SVG doesn't like to play rookies, but Courtney Lee isn't prone to rookie mistakes and he's the team's best perimeter defender. The Magic couldn't have used Lee on either of Fisher's 3-pointers? Clearly, Van Gundy is favoring the experience of Redick and Pietrus by not playing Lee. * * *




by Paul Ego, The Puns Are Starting to Bore Me (Bloguin)

There is something special about sporting events that bring people together. The bigger the event, the greater the sense of comradeship, and no event is bigger in basketball than the NBA finals.

Last night I experienced a game from a slightly different perspective than my usual seat inside the arena. I made the treck to the arena, then decided at the last minute to sell my ticket and hang out with some friends at a local bar called Burton's to watch game 5. The place had a nice crowd, but I was able to talk my way into sharing a booth with a couple that had some room to spare.

For various reasons, by the end of the first quarter, all of my friends had left the bar and I found myself sitting in a booth, watching the Orlando Magic with two complete strangers. My new friends Amber and Bobby were gracious hosts for sharing their booth, so I made sure to keep pitchers of Shock Top in ready supply. One gigantic advantage over watching the game in the arena, I can get pitchers of my favorite beer for almost as much as I can get a cup at the game.

Watching a game in a sports bar can be a good time, but watching a Finals game, in a bar down the road from the arena is a completely different experience. Everyone standing up, cheering on the team, chanting like they are in the arena, and ZERO Laker fans! By the end of the night, we were standing up on the seats in the booth cheering for our team. The entire bar was glued to the televisions, and nothing else mattered. * * *


The Bottom Line:

1. The Finals are fun.

2. Winning the Finals is probably more fun than losing the Finals, but what can ya do?

3. Man, Coach Stan really screwed up, didn't he?

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