Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Los Angeles Lakers 101, Orlando 96
(Los Angeles leads series, 2-0)

It is a bit of a cliché, it was brought up time and time again last night in various outlets, and it was a repeated theme of Stan Van Gundy's postgame press conference, but the idea that the Magic played very poorly in several aspects, while still keeping it close, seems a big surprise.

After all, what did the Lakers do wrong? They were out-rebounded, though not nearly as severely as the Magic were in Game 1. The team couldn't pick up any offensive rebounds, about one for every 10 chances, and Kobe Bryant(notes) (though not Kobe Bryant's team) turned it over too much. A few things, but minor things, compared to Orlando's list.

The Magic? Shot poorly. Nearly doubled the Lakers up in turnovers. Missed 20 three-pointers. Did not pass well. Did not shoot as well from the free throw line. Did not take advantage of all their offensive rebounds. Did not score in transition (two points) well.

And yet, tie game after regulation. A five-point loss. A deficit that wouldn't exist had Hedo Turkoglu's(notes) two-pointer and Rashard Lewis'(notes) three-pointer not spun out in OT.

A day later, I have no clue how this happens. Not, "how the Magic play this poorly," but the idea that Orlando was really in control, and sort of blew the win. In Los Angeles, and just a few days after losing by 25.

That has to be the case, right? Consider the miscues. Orlando turned it over 20 times, on about a fifth of their possessions. Yet, 10 of those turnovers took place in the first 15 minutes of the game, followed by just three in the next 27 minutes, then another seven in the last 11 minutes.

To go from league-worst awful to league-best awesome back to awful in one game, without the Lakers (to these eyes) really changing their defensive intensity or game plan much? Doesn't that fall on Orlando?

How about the rebounding? -14 in Game 1, +9 in Game 2. Picked up offensive boards, shut down the offensive glass for Los Angeles, one game after being whupped on both ends. Again, it looked like the Lakers were trying just as hard, so where does this burst come from?

Part of this can be blamed on, "hey, they're playing a great team; things will go up and down." But we've also seen the Magic go long stretches without turning the ball over, without Los Angeles' defensive effort waning. We've seen them destroy the Lakers on the boards. Assuming the Lakers are the constant, here, which we think is the case, the gulf in greatness to great-less falls on the Magic.

Not that Stan Van Gundy isn't trying to change the shape of things. He went most of the fourth quarter and a good chunk of overtime with no point guard, which seems odd on the surface but barely registers overall when you consider the fact that Derek Fisher(notes) has essentially become a wing player (even Trevor Ariza(notes) spends more time up top on offense and defense) in this series, and Hedo Turkoglu does most of the offensive initiation for the Magic.

So why force-feed minutes to players who weren't shooting well? As Van Gundy mentioned after the game, the Lakers weren't even guarding Rafer Alston(notes), who missed seven of eight shots, while Jameer Nelson(notes) (1-3 shooting, 2-4 free throws) just isn't there yet.

The replacements weren't much better in terms of shooting, as J.J. Redick(notes) missed seven of nine shots, but it was clear that Derek Fisher did have to stick with Redick in a way that helped Orlando's offense, even as he was missing shots. Though Alston tried, Fisher didn't stick with him. Didn't have to.

The real difference was the physical way Trevor Ariza was allowed to defend Hedo Turkoglu, a style of on-ball D that no point guard defender would ever be permitted to play consistently, which led to three turnovers from Hedo in the fourth quarter and overtime, and a Magic offense that didn't really set itself up until about 14 seconds were left on the shot clock.

And while the Magic try to figure things out from the outside, the inside play is still far from perfect. Dwight Howard(notes) was a turnover-y, complain-y mess for most of the game on offense. His defense improved considerably in Game 2, he was pretty poor in Game 1, though you could still see him take some plays off without the excuse of foul trouble to lean on.

Still, 17 points on five of 10 shooting, 16 rebounds, four assists (in about 40 assist chances), seven turnovers, four steals, four blocks. The Magic didn't pass especially well on Sunday, but it was still Howard that refused to meet the ball in the post, while fumbling several other entry passes. This was mostly on him.

He had help in falling apart. Andrew Bynum(notes) did a solid defensive job, but only played 16 minutes due to foul trouble. Pau Gasol(notes), actually, was the main defensive force on Howard, making life rough on him and his in-bounder passers, while moving his feet defensively and sometimes funneling him into the all-world defensive help of Lamar Odom(notes).

Odom was brilliant defensively. Help defense, I mean. His own men, actually, came to enjoy a few open looks, Rashard Lewis especially. But, overall he helped more than he hurt defensively. And offensively, turning broken plays and loose balls into scores? He was fantastic. 19 points on only nine shot attempts, eight rebounds, three blocks for Odom. Great all-around game.

Kobe didn't force things, though he did get up 22 shots (scoring 29 points). Very good defensively, but seven turnovers with his eight assists. A good night overall. And he was fouled on the last play of regulation, touched on the left arm by Rashard Lewis as he went up for a shot attempt that could have won the game. Lewis' graze had nothing to do with the fact that Hedo Turkoglu eventually blocked Kobe's shot, but it doesn't matter. It was a foul.

Luckily for Los Angeles, Pau Gasol is just a fantastic all-around basketball player, able to sustain his play to the very end. 24 points on 7-14 shooting, 10-11 from the line, all sorts of finishes off of broken plays or improvisation, with a game-deciding three-point play in overtime with 1:14 left that sealed it. 10 boards, three assists, zero turnovers, two steals, a block, such a game.

Derek Fisher's game, meanwhile, had completely changed. For the better. Without having to dribble as much or bring the ball up, he appears to have stronger legs for his jumper, which makes sense. 12 points on nine shots, but also a two of three mark from long range. Ariza's D was stifling, which made up for a 3-13 shooting night overall. And that was about it, on a night where Phil Jackson went with a tight rotation in a game he needed.

And while Stan Van Gundy gave us the figurative shrugged shoulders after the game, claiming that he was just about out of rotation ideas, we're not so sure. Not that the Magic are out of lineups, that much is probably certain (they even threw a few in on Sunday that they had yet to try -- before and after Jameer Nelson's injury -- all season), but in the way that the Magic's evolving rotation will grow and play.

With both teams, we're seeing growth, in June. That's a pretty rare thing, not just because you usually only get two teams playing in June, but because those teams are pretty set in their ways by this time.

For both the Lakers and Magic to be showing us new things this late in the season, by either working more consistently with the fundamentals they set up years ago, or by trying and ironing out new kinks in the myriad lineups worth tossing out there, that makes for an intriguing Finals run.

We don't know what's going to happen out in Orlando, but we do know that unpredictability in June is a fun thing, and that it will be worth our attention. Certainly something to look forward to, even after things played out according to script in Los Angeles.

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