Scouting update: Magic-76ers, Game 4
Philadelphia has some momentum and two more home games to help earn the four needed, but Orlando knows it is two clutch misses away from leading this series 3-0. Neither team is playing particularly well, but each shows signs of being able to figure the other out. Game 5s are typically the breaking-point games, but it will be so in this series only if Orlando can get Game 4 under control.
• It's become painfully obvious that Hedo Turkoglu is not close to 100 percent, devastating news given that he is being defended by Andre Iguodala. In my scouting report for Game 3, the word "awful" is written next to Turkoglu's name numerous times, long before he finished 2-for-12 with five turnovers. He just cannot afford any turnovers in Game 4.
• Philly went back to allowing Dwight Howard space to operate, and he crushed them inside with lots of dunks and buckets. But only Rafer Alston (very late) had a solid offensive game, so Philly's plan of taking away the shooters worked again. It's likely they'll continue the same strategy.
• Courtney Lee fell back to earth with a poor shooting night (2-for-9), but this is where the Magic can make some changes. When Alston runs ball-screen action, the Sixers rarely worry about him, which is one reason he had a good game. They are banking on the fact that he can't keep it up. But Lee has been their best guy in the pick-and-roll, especially now because Philly tried to trap him (thanks to his first two games). He has the quickness to make it hard for them, and he can both pass and finish at the rim. He's better attacking down the middle, with shooters stationed opposite and Howard rolling down the angle. Samuel Dalembert showed or blitzed when Lee used a Howard screen, so Howard has to be prepared for the quick pass. A delayed pass allows for Philly's helpers to arrive.
• On post feeds, Philly rarely sent a double right away. But when the Magic passer stayed home initially after delivering the pass, he invited his man to dive down and create problems for Howard. A quick cut through and out the other side immediately after the post feed will resolve this issue.
• Mickael Pietrus came in for Turkoglu and hit two 3s; he will likely see extended minutes as a replacement in Game 4 if Turk cannot get untracked.
• Andre Miller was able to drive by almost any defender in Game 3, sometimes without a screen. Orlando's base defense gets wrecked when this happens, so those on-ball defenders have to explode away on drives and keep Miller in front of them.
• On Philly ball screens, Howard and Marcin Gortat stayed in their "contain" defense, which gave Miller and Williams plenty of room to take mostly uncontested midrange jumpers. If the Magic want to keep executing this strategy, their on-ball defender has to do a better job of trailing and recovering to influence the shot. Allowing Philly to shoot better than 50 percent from the field is a recipe for defeat.
• The Sixers needed last-second shots to win two games after allowing Howard to dictate most of the night. Keeping that strategy suggests that Game 4 will be just as close, which means every other type of execution has to be spot-on.
• If they are going to trap or hard-hedge Lee on ball screens, Philly's weakside defenders have to be more alert to rushing the passing lane to Howard on the roll.
• Alston finally broke through and finished some drives, so the Sixers have to decide whom they will leave open if they end up having to help on his drives. Lewis showed some signs of life late as well, and allowing Hedo open shots (rather than forcing tough shots off the dribble) might get him going, too. Perhaps they will live with Alston's having to score a lot for Orlando to win.
• Playing behind Howard helps keep him off the offensive glass, but helping off him on drives does the opposite. Philly might risk bringing help on drives from someone not covering Howard, hoping the Magic driver will still shoot and not pass it out to the open shooter.
• The Sixers can go small and quick, which causes more problems for Turkoglu and his bad ankle.
• Philadelphia can learn a great lesson from the Chicago Bulls, who relaxed when they got home and did not recognize that Boston was capable of raising their game a great deal. Orlando was a super team for most of the season and played incredible basketball on a number of occasions. Philly must expect that and bring its intensity to a higher level as well.
• It's clear Turkoglu is not much of a threat off the dribble, but if Orlando can use another creator, Turkoglu can be a great catch-and-shoot guy who can put up a big number.
• With Howard hitting two huge free throws late in the game, perhaps Orlando will use him a bit more at the end of the game. He is taking his game to new heights this round of the playoffs, and can climb higher.
• After expecting Thaddeus Young to go off in Game 3, he ended up playing casually until hitting the game-winner. But if Lewis and Turk are forced to help more on Miller drives, Young will get a chance to shine.
• Iguodala has played terrific defense and been a great fourth-quarter performer on offense. Can he dominate the entire game and carry his team to a commanding 3-1 lead?
Turkoglu's injury dramatically hurts Orlando's chances, but the fact that they can play poorly and still be in the game at the end suggests that Game 4 should be just as tight as the first three. Iguodala and Young may end up being too much for Orlando, but I still like how Orlando has battled back all season when on the road.Prediction: Orlando wins Game 4
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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