Goodness, gracious, sakes alive the Lakers are good.
I'm sure the Jazz fans did not appreciate the way Utah came out to start this game. Deron Williams(notes) pointed out in a rather candid post-game interview that his team started feeling sorry for itself and began moping a bit once the Lakers ran out to a double-digit lead, but I couldn't help but think that the Lakers had just about everything to do with their hot start. They were just executing at an offensive rate that no team could handle.
And save for letting the Jazz sort of dictate the terms in the third quarter, turning this into a two-possession game by playing a frantic style of ball on both ends, the Lakers just kept calm and carried on. Kobe Bryant(notes), in particular, was masterful again in running the show. He managed 32 points, but I could hardly give a rip whether he finished with 15 or 50; because it was his decision-making that set the Lakers apart.
Quick, distinct decisions. No Larry Johnson-in-1999 stuff. The triple-threat is nice, screen-and-roll basketball can be effective, but nothing beats putting a defender on his heels before he's even had a chance to load up and guess where you're going. The ball was moving, thanks to Kobe, and the Laker parts were moving, thanks to Kobe. He just had his team flowing.
Pau Gasol(notes) helped, 17 points in the first half, and 33 and 14 (two blocks, one turnover, geesh) total. Shannon Brown(notes) provided a nice punch off the bench in the first half, Ron Artest(notes) probably punched a guy when we weren't looking, and the Lakers were just the better team.
I still don't believe they were a 4-0 "better" team, but that's how close games go, sometimes. A couple of tweaks here and there, and we're heading back to El Lay for a best of three. Then again, maybe a Game 1 loss steels the Laker reserve, and the team sweeps from then on out. The way they came out in Game 4, after a close Game 3? You'd have to at least consider assuming that.
One week off, for two teams that need it. Can't say I'm properly pleased at having to wait a week to see the Suns and Lakers, but I've no choice but to take my medicine at this point.
Orlando 98, Atlanta 84; Orlando wins series, 4-0
There's a level of confidence in the Orlando Magic right now that no other team can touch. As good as the Lakers have been of late, and as heady as the Suns have looked, no team is as self-aware as these Magic.
No team looks as focused, no team looks as good. Put it this way -- they're the only team that has me looking forward to the typically pablum-infused halftime or between-quarter interviews from players and coaches. There's just a calm about them that lends itself to articulation. It's almost, like, what's the opposite of a master of panic?
And the Hawks, who we'll discuss further in a post later today, just didn't have a chance. Didn't have a chance on paper, not after the Magic walked all over them in the regular season, and didn't have a chance in action, as Mike Woodson more or less lost this team about two weeks ago in the Milwaukee series.
In Game 4, as it was all series, the Magic found good things on the other end of quick decisions and good ball movement. It helps that the shots were going in, but these are the Magic, and those shots are supposed to go in. Toss in a free-to-roam Dwight Howard(notes), and you have a team that was able to win going away, even as the Hawks nailed some tough jumpers and played their best game of the series.
In the end, though, Atlanta faded. Just didn't have the heart, nor the horses. And with just seven turnovers to their name, the Hawks still only managed about 100 points per 100 possessions, a terrible mark.
Save for Ry-Sauce Anderson, everyone on the Magic was feeling it. The team missed nine free throws in 19 attempts and turned it over on 18 percent of its possessions, and it still managed a white hot 117 points per 100 possessions. That's quite a feat, considering those mitigating influences. I think I appreciated Jameer Nelson's(notes) 16 points and nine assists in under 30 minutes the most, but everyone had a go.
And the Magic, the team that needs it least, likely gets a week off. I hope to Hammersmith that we don't look back on this upcoming week as this team's undoing, but considering the focus we've seen from Stan Van Gundy's crew thus far, I have a hard time believing it will do anything but good. An appalling optimist, I am.