June 02, 2009
Five rather simple ways the Orlando Magic can win the NBA Finals, written by a rather naïve man with suspect basketball intelligence ...
Not just dumping the ball into Dwight, in and of itself. You can work that magic against just about everyone. I'm talking about working efficiently and quickly once Howard actually gets the ball. No waiting. Just quick moves made before the Lakers (with all their "plans" and "research" and "scouting" and "execution") try to counter.
Now, if the obvious double-team comes early, sure. You hold onto the ball and survey the scene. Anything else? Work for position, and move like you're in the NBA Finals, surrounded by a bunch of 30-year-old teammates playing on borrowed time, Dwight.
2. Don't overplay, defensively.
From the second edition of Phil Jackson's "Sacred Hoops," published in 1996:
"[George Karl's Seattle SuperSonics] push the offense to the sidelines and the baseline, double team the dribbler on penetration, and rotate from the weak side to prevent any swing of the ball to the weak side. They do it very well and have good athletes. Offensively, our sideline triangle was precisely the means to beat this aggressive defense. We overloaded either side of the floor and then swung the ball into isolation or a two-man game."
OK, that was 13 years ago, and Karl still proceeded to overplay on just about every Laker that got within 23 feet of the rim. And it is why the Lakers won Games 3 and 6 on the road.
To beat the Laker offense, you need to keep your head on a swivel, and usually go against the instinct that tells you to help-help!-HELP! You have to stay down, stay sane, and rebound the ball. Seems easy enough, but then it's the nine-minute mark of the second quarter, and the Lakers already have 38 points.
3. Get hot from the outside.
You'll have to excuse me when I don't believe people when they talk about how the Magic were "living by the 3-pointer" (as opposed to dying by it), when it was clearly the team's defense, Dwight Howard in the post, and the screen-and-roll game that was putting the team over the top against Cleveland.
Against the Lakers, though, the Magic will have to add that extra gear to their offensive attack. They'll need the points, even if the defensive effort is the same, because it's hard to keep a great offense down. And the Lakers, at the team's best, own the most potent offense in the NBA. You're going to need the points to try and match it, and it doesn't hurt to try and get them three at a time.
It's the toughest thing in the world, especially for the 3-point specialists that come off the bench. You don't shoot anything for the longest time, then you have to hoist up a 25-footer with someone closing in on you, and an inch or two in the wrong direction determines whether you're colder than cold, or a hero in the making. Inches. Tough stuff.
4. Don't foul.
Again, obvious stuff, easier said than done. Doesn't mean you don't work toward it.
The Spurs, at their best, don't foul. Same with the Magic. It was a big part of why they were tops in the NBA in defensive efficiency this season. This starts by denying penetration, understanding the personnel (no need to jump 12 feet in the air to deny Luke Walton(notes) a corner three), and taking care of the defensive glass.
A few offensive rebound put-backs that are met with a hack, a needless hand-check on Derek Fisher(notes) in transition, and an earned foul on Kobe Bryant(notes), and all of a sudden the Lakers are in the penalty with eight minutes to go in the quarter. Not what we'd call "ideal."
Simple, stupid, analysis. But it's the damned truth.
Rafer Alston(notes)? You're no Jameer Nelson(notes), but you're no Anthony Johnson(notes), either. You can bust Derek Fisher, but destroying someone defensively doesn't mean doing them a favor and pulling up for a series of 3-pointers. It doesn't even have to mean you have to shoot much. Just get past the guy, and use your head.
Dwight Howard? You're not Hakeem Olajuwon. We loved your work in the conference finals, are incredibly chuffed at the idea of you growing into an offensive force at this level, and love nothing more than a good post-up and score. But you can't watch the cutters go through, and slowly amble into your move. You're 23. Dance like it.
Hedo Turkoglu(notes)? Remember when the Berlin Wall came down? Remember how long ago that was? Phil Jackson's teams have struggled to defend the screen and roll for exactly that long. November, 1989. Take advantage of it, free agent to-be.
And for god's sake, have fun. This is what you play for.