Scouting update: Magic-76ers, Game 3
Sometimes, every game in a playoff series takes on its own look, each looking nothing like the others. In this Orlando Magic-Philadelphia Sixers first-round series, both games have played out in very similar fashion. Philly has made a big comeback in each, and the teams have split the two games after failing late in Game 2. But strategy has not been the same in both contests, and Game 3 may look entirely different.
• The Sixers stayed home on shooters in Game 1, playing one-on-one with Howard and his defender. Howard had a huge game, but Philadelphia won. The 76ers did exactly the opposite in Game 2, sending at least one guy to double-team Howard. The Philly defenders constantly anticipated the pass to Howard so they could jump him. Although they held Howard to six shots and 11 points, they lost. Because the Sixers fell far behind in both games, it's fair to say they need a new strategy.
No matter what the Sixers decide to do, it seems clear they must do a better job accounting for Courtney Lee. Comments by Philadelphia players after Game 2 suggested as much. Lee is having success as a slasher and making his midrange jumpers off one dribble. The Sixers could continue to force him to be a finisher and keep working to control Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis after the Howard double-team. But after Lee's 42 points combined in the first two games, it seems clear he can continue to make the easy plays that come to him. Lee has looked a lot less confident when being defended aggressively, so that could be a start for the Sixers' defenders.
• The scrambling defense the Sixers employed ended up hurting them on the offensive glass. Meanwhile, the Magic doubled their efforts in Game 2 with 14 offensive boards, because block-out responsibilities are harder to discern when guys are doubling and recovering.
• Andre Miller carried the Sixers in Game 2, and Andre Iguodala really struggled until the comeback. Iguodala's 21-point, eight-rebound and seven-assist performance is misleading in a sense (but still impressive, of course), because he was a big part of the Sixers' undoing when things went poorly for them. He had trouble getting good looks, especially when he tried to attack the baseline. Orlando's base defense is too good to get beaten much in that area, but Iggy received better looks attacking down the middle. Philly can run more sets that get him to that area and help him get going early. It's hard to imagine Philadelphia winning Game 3 without a strong effort from him.
• Nothing will occupy Magic coach Stan Van Gundy's mind more than figuring out what he can do to hold a big lead if his team earns one. It will be even tougher for the Magic to do that on the road. Van Gundy went with Anthony Johnson over Rafer Alston to close out Game 2 and had some success. But figuring out how to get Lewis and Turkoglu back in sync would be more helpful.
Both players shot a combined 7-for-24 in Game 2, and Lewis made just one of six 3-point attempts. Each guy appears to be rushing shots and hunting them, too. Getting them to slow down and trust the system would be a good start.
• As a team, the Magic made just 6 of 23 3-pointers in Game 2 after a poor showing in Game 1. Most were good looks, and Van Gundy will stress his team to keep firing the shots, especially if Philly continues to double-team and hound Howard.
• Slowing Miller is a must, and the Magic can do it only by guarding him more physically. He's using his size, strength and experience to carve them up inside.
• Marcin Gortat helped spearhead the Magic's great effort on the offensive glass, something they cannot think casually about heading into Game 3. They have not rebounded well on offense, so improving in this area will be featured on the pregame whiteboard. Second-chance points are a way to make the Sixers pay for overly aggressive defensive strategies.
• The Sixers' Thaddeus Young was very effective scoring inside on flashes and post-ups. He has advantages in athleticism and length over Lewis or Turkoglu and is capable of having a really big game. If he's headed for one, Orlando needs to be ready to counter it by doubling him and being more aware to deny him paint touches right away.
• The Magic can be a turnover-prone team, and Philly's fans can energize the Sixers to new heights on defense. Creating 20-plus turnovers is possible.
• Iguodala can swing from bad to great in one game. He's a difficult matchup for any Magic player.
• The Magic's 3-point shooting can quiet any crowd and make the Sixers hesitant to fly around Howard as purposefully as they did in Game 2.
• If Lewis or Turkoglu finds his game, Orlando will find its offensive rhythm.
The Philly faithful will be in full throat, and the Sixers can be totally energized by that kind of atmosphere. I expect Philadelphia to really dictate the game on defense for the most part, thanks to its athletes. But Orlando has been too good for too long from downtown to keep shooting so poorly. The Magic are built to keep opposing crowds from influencing the game thanks to their inside-outside game.
Prediction: Orlando wins Game 3
David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for Scouts Inc. and the executive director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for more than 40 NBA, European and D-League players. Those players include Kevin Martin, Rob Kurz, Luol Deng, Courtney Lee and Tyrus Thomas. To e-mail him, click here.
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