Before we get into the Cavs/Magic Game 4, let me talk about their Western counterparts.
Lakers/Nuggets Game 5 Preview
I got really smashed on Saturday night so I barely saw any of the Lakers win except for the score. So I won't act like I saw it.
What I did see before was a Nuggets team who made a decent Mavericks team look stupid in the second round. Following their Game 4 victory, the thought crept in my head that the Nuggets could possibly beat the Lakers, especially the way the Lakers weren't showing up in Houston late in that series.
The thing the Nuggets need to keep in mind, especially going into Game 5 tonight, is they cannot win any series by just winning the even numbered games.
This series has been close every game with the exception of Game 4. The opportunities have been there for Denver to win Games 1 & 3 but that "old Laker luck" as some L.A. haters call it came calling both times. Trevor Ariza's huge steal in Game 1. Kobe taking over in the 4th quarter of Game 3. The Lakers may not be playing like everyone expects them to, but they haven't lost any games they needed to win.
And Game 4…wow. Easily the worst game of either conference final series. Carmelo gets sick and every other Nugget steps up big time. The Lakers looked out of sync (even Kobe, who still managed 34 points) and were just pummeled by Denver in every major statistical category. Both teams took bad shot after awful shot each trip up the court. And J.R. Smith was apparently throwing up gang signs. It was really bad.
But, that was Game 4. Game 5 is back at the Staples Center. And despite Game 5 normally being the key game of any playoff series, all the signs are pointing to the Lakers going back to Denver up 3-2. Smith will not shoot like that in Los Angeles. The Lakers will resemble a team again (but Derek Fisher needs to stop shooting and be more of a playmaker). Kobe will be the Black Mamba and make the crucial shots that will lead to a L.A. W.
While the Lakers are not the same squad I deemed this season's champions after they had those big wins against Boston and Cleveland early this year, they still can turn it on when they have to. If they turned it on all the time this series would be over after Game 5.
Not to take anything away from Denver. They're a great team and when everything is clicking they are just as dangerous as the Lakers. They might even win Game 6. But their streakiness, bad starts, and shooting slumps will keep them from the Finals. It would take a complete Los Angeles breakdown the rest of the series for them to meet the Eastern Conference Champion no one expected and Nike did not want.
SIDENOTE: I am sick of counting flagrant and technical fouls. Kobe is 2 techs away from a game off and Dwight Howard is 1 away. I understand keeping track during the regular season but this is for that big gold trophy dammit!
Orlando 116 Cleveland 114 OT
I didn't expect Orlando to really have the Cavs number like this. But as the one team in the playoffs who look like they know what they are doing on their offensive possessions, they've certainly earned it. The Cavaliers wore their red road uniforms in Game 3 and never found the run they needed to threaten Orlando with a win (I'm a firm believer in uniform superstitions; remind me to blog about it sometime). They returned to the familiar blue road unis for Game 4 and they still came up short, even with LeBron getting his ghost foul on his last drive of regulation. I blame a lot of the Cavs problems with the Magic on their head coach Mike Brown though. No LeBron on Hedo Turkoglu in Game 2 almost lost them that game and then I watched as Ben Wallace(?) tried to fight through a screen as Rashard Lewis slid open for three pointer that gave the Magic the lead in the waning seconds.
Ben Wallace on Rashard Lewis? Wally Szczerbiak would've made more sense. At least he could have kept up with him. Maybe. But this whole series I've watched the Cavs be forced into odd matchups that never end well for them. There may be nothing Brown can do in certain situations but it shouldn't happen time and time again.
Remember when I said the idea of Howard not being able to close out games was dookie? Games 3 & 4 proved me right as Superman poured in 24 and 27 points respectively, including 10 points in the overtime. There is no reason Dwight shouldn't be a factor in any game's closing minutes as he made clutch plays when Lewis and Turkoglu were actually properly guarded. And if Anderson Varejao had been called for a foul on that last lob play, Dwight would have knocked down the free throws and saved everyone 5 minutes.
LeBron is getting no help. Delonte West had 12, Mo Williams 15 and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 9. James only scored 41, hit an impossible three with 4.6 seconds to go, and damn near hit a 35-footer that everyone thought was going in with the way LeBron has been casually making insane shots all year. And while the MVP tried to win the game alone a la Jordan before the 1990-91 season, Rafer Alston chipped in with 26 points off the bench for the Magic.
At this point, Cleveland should go back to the Q and take care of business in Game 5. I'm assuming someone will help LeBron or he'll just go off as superstars are known to do and force Game 6. Or the Magic could keep it close all game and then hit the big shots in the 4th like they've been doing all series and send the MVP home for the summer.
And just to play devil's advocate, Stan Van Gundy was the Heat's coach in 2005 when they blew a 3-2 series lead to Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals. Even though 3-1 comebacks are rarer, you never know when a few bad decisions could lead to this series getting tied at 3 or even being lost in 7. These are still the Cavs. They could show up. But I don't think so.