Scouting Update: Magic-Lakers, Game 2
Every golfer knows it's hard to execute a good swing with tight muscles. And we see wild hooks or slices from top professionals a whole lot more when they are competing at majors than when they are at the driving range.
Orlando's players now understand what that is all about, as they can now appreciate the differences between a conference final and the Finals. It would be easy to say their poor shooting from the perimeter was the reason they got killed in Game 1, but it was their 15-of-54 shooting from inside the arc that doomed them. Stan Van Gundy clearly has some adjustments to consider, but the biggest message he will give his guys is: "Fellas, we just have to make some shots."
• When Orlando has struggled offensively this postseason, normally it was a result of too few touches for Dwight Howard. That lack of touches allows the opposing defense to keep its basic structure, and against the Lakers, this became a problem. But it wasn't the only issue the Magic had on offense. In addition to not establishing Howard enough early in the clock, the Magic players seemed tentative in many of their actions. Guys held the ball for too long, again allowing Lakers defenders to stay in good spots. Players jogged to set screens too often, unsure of what exactly the ball handler wanted. This shortened the clock on many possessions, a fatal blow against a team with the length of the Lakers. And the ball handlers didn't attack off screens once they were set, rarely getting penetration and forcing the Lakers into breaking out of their standard defense.
• The three keys in terms of execution for Orlando's offense are: feed Howard repeatedly, move the ball quickly off screens and dribble drives to try to get paint penetration, and finish paint shots.
• Rashard Lewis has a tendency to try to finesse drives to the basket instead of attacking with toughness to draw the foul. It would be wise for him to do the latter. He has attacked the basket on many drives this postseason. But it just so happens that they all came before Thursday's Game 1.• When Orlando runs ball screens to drag Andrew Bynum off Howard, Pau Gasol moves to Howard and Bynum switches to Lewis. If the Magic are patient, they can isolate Bynum on the perimeter. But they have to move the ball quickly to prevent the switchback first before they slow it down and take advantage of the mismatch. Recognizing this is key. • Tony Battie's lack of an outside shot allows Gasol to hang back and zone up inside. Orlando needs to space better opposite the ball, and when they get a ball reversal they can drive at Gasol, who will have more ground to cover. Too often Orlando's perimeter player was rotated too much toward the center, allowing one defender to cover two near the middle of the floor and the wing. Flattening to the corner with one shooter and placing the other higher on the wing can earn easier corner 3s. • Howard is best when facing up Bynum or Gasol, but he needs to attack more quickly after he gets the ball. Attacking toward the middle is his best option, as it allows easier kickouts when L.A. sends defenders down to him. If he goes baseline, it needs to be fast and explosive, so the second defender doesn't have time to get down there. L.A.'s length inside is a factor here. • Defensively, the Magic did not play with either force or urgency and got killed in the paint. Before worrying about guarding Kobe, they first have to build a stronger wall around the rim without relying solely on Howard's shot-blocking talents. Using quicker feet, stronger forearms, harder fouls and smarter rotations, they can accomplish this. • Orlando is content with a high volume of shots from Kobe Bryant, as long as they aren't putting him on the foul line as well. But they may have to send a double-team at him, as they did with Paul Pierce in the Boston series, if they sense him going into "Mamba mode." • Look for increased emphasis on the Magic's defense after dead balls and coming out of timeouts, as they did not lock in immediately and gave up quick points coming out of breaks. Their failures in these situations were clearly a result of the bright lights of the Finals stage, and these situations are sure to be addressed in their preparation for Game 2. • The best defensive statement the Magic can make in Game 2 is a few hard fouls early in the game to let the Lakers know they are in for a fight. L.A. Lakers
• When Gasol has to get back to protect the paint to slide over to Howard, someone has to find Lewis when he runs to the corner. Gasol can't protect the rim and close out Lewis. • Despite all of the attention given to Bynum, Gasol and Lamar Odom for their individual defense on Howard, the Lakers' defense of Howard started well before he ever touched the ball. Lakers perimeter defenders made contact with Howard in transition and at the start of his rolls to the basket after a ball screen. By doing this, they not only attempted to impede his progress, but also crowded him and let him know he was surrounded by gold jerseys. Look for this to continue in Game 2. • Each of Howard's individual defenders played him differently in Game 1, and this rotation of adversaries, designed to prevent Howard from getting into a consistent rhythm, will be on display again in Game 2. • Bynum will be content to allow Howard to catch the ball and then back off to allow Howard to face up and come right at him. Bynum will attempt to hold his ground at the rim. His fouls in Game 1 came on slapdowns and reach-ins when Howard beat him off the dribble. • Gasol attempted to deny Howard the catch, beating him to spots and then trying to deny and front. Gasol then used his quickness when Howard made the catch, playing him tighter and drawing two offensive fouls. With Howard expected to be more aggressive in Game 2, Gasol will once again look to anticipate Howard's power moves to the basket and draw the charge. Odom will play behind and defend him straight-up. • Once Howard made the catch and began his move in Game 1, Lakers help defenders were digging in the lane, cheating toward Howard and reaching and crowding him as he made his move. Look for this to continue in Game 2, with an occasional double-team thrown in to keep Howard guessing. • Trevor Ariza and Luke Walton will continue their tag team on Hedo Turkoglu. They will try to take away the middle on his catches and attempt to steer his drives toward the baseline and the corner. Tukoglu's only 3-pointer in Game 1 came on an overaggressive drive help by Ariza in the first quarter, so look for Ariza and Walton to shade him a little closer in Game 2 to prevent a possible 3-point barrage. • The Lakers' offense in Game 2 can't depend on Bryant's acrobatics, so expect to see an early emphasis on getting the ball inside to Bynum and Gasol. Bynum's size and offensive skill make him a handful for Howard. The Lakers will try to put Howard in position to defend and risk early foul trouble. • L.A. got 15 offensive rebounds in Game 1, eight of those coming from Bynum, Gasol and Odom. Look for the offensive glass to be a continued point of emphasis in Game 2, especially if Howard is in shot-blocking mode. • With the Magic likely to increase attention on Bryant in Game 2, the Lakers must get crisp ball movement and good offensive spacing, which will then allow L.A. shooters to spot up for 3-point shots on ball reversal. The Lakers only took nine 3-pointers in Game 1, so look for the Magic to test L.A.'s 3-point shooting ability in Game 2.
• After sitting out four-plus months, Jameer Nelson's role has now become a factor. Not only does his own play change the way Orlando plays, but it will also affect the rhythm and chemistry of the other players who won three series without him. • Lewis was a difference-maker in parts of every series. A big game from him helps the Magic greatly. L.A. Lakers
• Odom's contribution off the bench will continue to be a key in Game 2, especially if Bynum is in early foul trouble. His 14 rebounds in Game 1 were as important as his 11 points.
PredictionThe Magic have had their Finals baptism. Now that they have experienced all the hype that comes with the Finals, expect them to bring the same grit that they displayed as one of the best road teams in the NBA during the regular season. They have already won in Staples this year, they have won a Game 7 in Boston, and they have taken down the team with the league's best record. That's the team that must show up in Game 2. The Lakers' swarming defense must be even more active, and L.A. has to get contributions from everyone on the offensive end. Expect Game 2 to be physical and hard-fought and come down to some key fourth-quarter possessions. Thorpe: Magic win Game 2 Moreau: Lakers win Game 2 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. Mike Moreau is the director of basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He also serves as an NBA analyst for Hoopsworld. Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.
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