Scouting Update: Magic-Lakers, Game 3
The Magic had to make a number of adjustments to stay close to the Lakers in Game 2: Play much tougher defense, find Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis more often, control the backboards, and make more shots.
Check, check, check and check.
But they bombed out in an area they did well in during Game 1 -- limiting turnovers -- and that issue (20 for the game), plus some spotty rotations and a few missed shots near the rim, doomed them to face the always tough task of "winning four of five" to win the title. It's even tougher when facing a Lakers team finding its rhythm, winning despite less-than-stellar play by making the toughest plays and the clutch ones.
• Perhaps the biggest issue facing the Magic is solidifying their rotation. It seems strange to write that, considering we are now in the Finals, but it's hard to believe any Magic fans could ever have predicted some of the lineups they saw their team field in Game 2. Rafer Alston's shooting has taken a nosedive, as have his minutes. The two games in L.A. mark the second- and third-lowest minutes totals he has recorded this postseason.
• Courtney Lee played a total of seven minutes until a late fourth-quarter insertion and the overtime bumped him to 12. And he missed two very makeable shots from close range at the close of regulation.
• J.J. Redick played 27 minutes, after seeing just 10 in the entire Cleveland series. And Jameer Nelson played better in Game 2, with 17 solid minutes, but none came after the nine-minute mark of the third quarter, even though Hedo Turkoglu clearly got fatigued at game's end (partially because he played the point so much during regulation). It seems likely that Magic coach Stan Van Gundy has to make some decisions and stick with them. Either Nelson is in the rotation, or he isn't. Ditto Lee. The 20 turnovers were caused in part by the strange lineups Orlando had on the floor.
• The Magic committed two early turnovers in transition. Both were unforced, especially Mickael Pietrus' charge on a three-on-one break. They simply cannot make those kinds of mistakes -- better to be less aggressive than to take silly chances.
• In the second half, the Magic perimeter players made a huge adjustment, taking an extra dribble or two off ball screens. This opened up their offense. By turning the corner, they got much better paint penetration and earned open midrange jumpers, layups and 3-point shots when help arrived.
• The Magic have to either double Pau Gasol or stay home. In between does them no good, as it still allows Gasol to score or pass.
• Double-teaming Kobe Bryant is fine, triple-teaming isn't. When Howard is the second defender on him, the other three defenders have to find the shooters or the cutters/bigs inside, then rebound. Howard alone is enough help.
• Orlando has to push the ball at a pace that's even with Howard's sprint to the rim. That way, the Magic can feed him when he's open early. Then they have to keep looking for him for another few seconds, allowing him to spin and work for better position.
• Howard has to stop using his counterspin toward the baseline because the Lakers are running a helper to his blind spot in expectation of that counter. And overall, Howard needs to be much stronger with the ball down low and not allow the slap-aways L.A. has earned.
• Lee can't be so close to Kobe when he's away from the ball. It's too easy to get beat on face cuts or screens.
• Marcin Gortat has to be a lot hungrier for the ball when Lamar Odom leaves him to shade over to Howard. Flashing middle is the play. Given that he's not a shooting threat, he has to punish the Lakers for leaving him by catching and scoring inside.
• Given his size advantage, Turkoglu took a lot of fadeaway jumpers even when he did not need to. He missed most of them.
• We love Odom's getting an offensive three-second call. It shows L.A.'s intent to get the ball into the paint. This should continue in Game 3.
• "Thumbs down," one of Orlando's best plays, earned a layup for Gortat and a 3-pointer for Lewis, mostly because the L.A. defenders were not alert to it. Normally, the Lakers bring help from the corner, which they can do as long as guys like Alston can't make shots.
• The Magic went big with Turkoglu at point guard to help defend the paint. It worked great on defense, as the Magic players kept rushing to the rim and played big with arms extended, making it tough to score. The Lakers might elect to take more midrange jumpers when Orlando tries this strategy again. They can ball-hawk Turkoglu even more, as well, hoping to rush him and cause fatigue.
• L.A. simply lost track of Lewis during his second-quarter scoring spree. Odom was the primary offender as he either casually picked Lewis up too late, overhelped on drives or post feeds, or just lost Lewis altogether. Luke Walton also helped when he wasn't needed, leaving Lewis with a wide-open 18-footer with no Laker around him.
• Even when Odom got to Lewis, he failed to even extend a hand on Lewis' shot. In Game 3, Odom and Walton must find Lewis and Turkoglu early and not stray too far away. When Lewis and Turkoglu are on Howard's side, the help must come from somewhere else.
• The Lakers' defensive communication must be more consistent in Game 3, as well, as L.A. defenders were caught talking to each other and making hand gestures after baskets, often after the primary defender lost track of his man. This even happened in transition, when Gasol and Odom both picked up Lewis, leaving Howard all alone for his first dunk in the series.
• Offensively, L.A. can expect continued crowding of Bryant's driving lanes in Game 3, which will put a premium on efficient offensive flow and ball reversal. This gives the Lakers perimeter players their best chances to contribute, and Derek Fisher's continued offensive productive depends on this action.
• When Bryant does drive, look for Gasol to continue to cut to open areas, especially if Howard comes hard to help. This led to Gasol's big and-1 in the overtime. When Kobe drove and had his shot blocked at the end of regulation, he had Odom, who was 8-for-9 from the field, wide-open in the ball-side corner ready to stick the game winner. Look for Bryant to draw defenders and dish to open shooters and cutters, and his teammates must turn those into assists with finished plays in Game 3.
• The Lakers managed only four offensive rebounds in Game 2, getting none from Gasol or Andrew Bynum, who each had three in Game 1. With Trevor Ariza shooting only 3-for-17 in the series so far, this is a way for him to get going offensively. By attacking the offensive glass, this also increases the chances to draw fouls on Howard.
• Howard is a very popular player internationally, but no one loves him more than his O-town fans. His inability to score in bunches over Gasol and Bynum has blunted the Magic offense. Can he dominate Game 3, using that home crowd energy?
• Pick a guard, any guard will do.
• Fisher. The Lakers are undefeated in the playoffs when he scores in double figures.
• How will Kobe attack in Game 3? Try to do it all and grab a stranglehold on the series, or play within the flow as he did in Game 2?
PredictionThus far, the Lakers have won easily when they have played well and in overtime when they have not. That is a good sign, and they surely are huge favorites as of now. But Orlando has not played well in either game, partially thanks to L.A. but also thanks to its own miscues.
It's entirely possible that losing Game 2 cooled whatever fire Orlando had going for the series. However, this team has thrived on recovering from death blows. There is a good chance that the Magic's inside and outside games will come alive, which will make it much tougher on L.A. to pull out the road win. The lack of a set rotation scares us, but not enough to pick against the home team. Yet.
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.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.