After ugly win, this is Orlando’s series to lose


Clearly, there is something going on here. It’s more than a chance occurrence or fanciful possibility. It appears that, no matter what Mo Williams says, the Orlando Magic might be legitimately better than the Cleveland Cavaliers. They’re better in a way that, no matter what happens in any game, the Magic will at least have a chance to win. In a way that, if Orlando plays its best game, there is absolutely no way the Cavaliers can win. The Magic just played a game where Dwight Howard fouled out, the Magic made only six 3-pointers and LeBron James reached the free-throw line 24 times and scored 41 points. And the Magic cruised to a 99-89 victory and took a 2-1 series lead. The key number here is 51 — that’s how many times Orlando went to the free-throw line (which is, by the way, more free throws than any NBA team should ever shoot in one game). The refs were quick with the whistle on both ends, sure. But the Magic were attacking the hoop ferociously and pounding it inside, up and down the lineup. Dwight Howard scored 24 points in 27 minutes in his most efficient scoring night of the playoffs. The Cavs, of course, were in full-on Smite-a-Dwight mode, putting him on the line 19 times (he made 14). It’s become increasingly obvious that the Cavs cannot stop Howard. At the surface they’re best off leaving him in single-coverage and stopping the other guys, but if they do that, how do they keep their big men out of foul trouble? Dwight is giving the Cavs matchup problems the way Shaq used to. Speaking of matchup problems, the Magic have to be pretty happy with the way they handled LeBron tonight. He finished with 41 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, but he made only 39 percent of his field goals and settled for a lot more jumpers than he did in Game 2. Shot chart, LeBron James, Game 3 In case you don’t feel like counting up all the little Xs, that’s 2-for-15 on outside jumpers. Henry Abbott said that perhaps James’ game-winner in Game 2 gave him some irrational confidence heading into tonight’s game. That could be part of it — I also like Mickael Pietrus’ defense on King James (to see my article on Pietrus in the Daily Dime, click here). Pietrus stays low and can stay in front of James better than Turkoglu, which may leverage James into a few more outside jumpers than he likes to put up. We know it wasn’t Dwight Howard’s presence, because Howard was on the bench most of the night. Whatever the reason, the Magic will take it. A couple of key Magic contributors had poor shooting nights, yet found other ways to contribute. The big three: Hedo Turkoglu: Turkoglu made one shot all night, but he played about as well as someone can with a 1-for-11 shooting performance. He led the game with 10 rebounds, dished out seven assists and made 11 of 12 free-throws. His shot was failing him, but he controlled the game as the team’s primary facilitator and commander. The Cavs game-planned to limit Turk’s shots, and it worked. But, as Stan Van Gundy said, he was able to contribute in other ways: “Hedo is one of our main pick-and-roll players. They are trapping all of his pick-and-rolls. He is not going to get many shots on that. It’s incumbent on him to make the right play. I thought he made some bad plays early in the game in the firs thalf. But I thought as the game went on he made very, very good plays, and that’s what he needs for us.” Mickael Pietrus: In addition to his unyielding effort on defense and his ability to get to the rim, Pietrus made several big plays in the final minute. With the Magic up 92-86 with 1:08 to play, Turkoglu missed a jump shot — but Pietrus grabbed a huge offensive rebound and was fouled on the putback attempt. His two free throws put the game away. Then, a few plays later, he pinned a LeBron James lay-up to energize the crowd and cap off a big victory. Both big plays, based purely on hustle. Rafer Alston: It wasn’t about the volume of baskets for Alston, it was about the timing. He made five field goals and scored 13 points in the first quarter, helping the Magic to an early lead after facing big early deficits in the previous two games. And, after struggling on offense for the middle part of the game, Alston hit a humongous 3-pointer to put Orlando up 87-79 with 4:15 to go. Alston also came up with a steal with 1:30 to play. The game plodded along at a slow pace as Magic fans were subjected to a whopping 86 free throws. Neither team shot well, and besides a few James/Howard dunks, there weren’t much for highlights. But the Magic were able to control the game and impose their will on the Cavs. After the game, Mo Williams said the Cavs are “respecting this team too much.” While I see what he’s saying, he’s failing to admit a truth that is clear to the rest of us. Woody will have more on that tomorrow. For now, enjoy this win. The Magic are up 2-1 on the Cavs with another game on Tuesday. Now, all the Magic have to do is split with a team they’ve beaten four out of six times this year. You know LeBron and the Cavs aren’t going down without a fight — Tuesday should be a battle. Hopefully, there will be less free throws. What they’re saying: Stan Van Gundy: “You write a column. See, the league won’t fine you $25,000 or whatever, so you write it. That’s what I love — you guys see it but you don’t want to write it, but you want me to comment on it. So now I’m a whiner and I get fined. You saw it. Write what you saw.” Mo Williams: “Things get emotional. It’s over and done with. I’m going to continue — I got bigger fish to fry. I got to go and figure out how I can make some shots and get open looks. I can care less about Anthony Johnson. He played 12 minutes a game. I could care less.” Dwight Howard: “I was actually singing a song tonight in my head, and it was working. So I ought to stick with it. It was a song I heard at halftime. It was one of those dance songs. I kept thinking about dancing the whole time and free throws were going in, so I might need to keep up that routine. … I was singing in My Dougie soung that I heard. It was a dance song. I just felt good out there shooting it. I can’t give you no lines right now. I lost my voice screaming.” LeBron James: “Coming into this game I was shooting 60 percent from the field. So, you know, I missed a few shots tonight I’m capable of making. [Mickael Pietrus] is a very active defender, but I don’t believe anybody is an individual that can guard me.” Mickael Pietrus: “I won’t be able to stop him. I just try to minimize him in the fourth quarter and make him go to somebody else.”