Cavs Searching For Magic Spell
What does Mike Brown do now? That was the first question I asked when I watched the final seconds of Cleveland's 99-89 loss to the Orlando Magic last night. What adjustments does the coach of the year make to push back the tidal wave that threatens to dampen a dream season for the Cavaliers? Does he start Ben Wallace? Dust off Wally Szczerbiak? Go small and start Sasha Pavlovic?
If anything has been blatantly obvious through the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals, it's that Orlando has some major, major matchup advantages against the Cavaliers that are not going away any time soon. I outlined some of the problems in my conference finals preview story last week.
But Rashard Lewis is too fast, too skilled and too gifted a shooter to be slowed down by Anderson Varejao. Dwight Howard is too fast, too strong and too excitable to get slowed down by Zydrunas Ilguaskas. And while LeBron James can create all sorts of havoc for Hedo Turkoglu, the situation grows worse when the Cavaliers switch on pick and rolls, leaving Turkoglu to be defended by Delonte West. It also doesn't help that James helped force Turkoglu into missing 10 of 11 shots last night but Turkoglu still finished the game with 10 rebounds, seven assists and a plus/minus ratio of plus-20.
The Cavaliers are fortunate to be down 2-1 -- and would be down 3-0 if not for James's other-worldly shot at the end of Game 2. I think J.A. Adande had an pretty good column on Sunday explaining how some of the most memorable shots in postseason history were followed by losses. I mentioned earlier how Orlando has bounced back from disappointing losses all postseason, but it should feel pretty confident about its chances in this series. Those two Courtney Lee (no relation) dunks on James should be proof that the Magic players certainly aren't scared of Cleveland.
My best friend, David, made an interesting point to me the other night. He told me that Orlando reminds him of Golden State against Dallas two years ago. Not that Orlando is some huge underdog attempting to knock off a top seed, but just that Dallas won 67 games in the regular then had a first-round series against the one team in the Western Conference for which the Mavericks had no answer. Orlando is the one Eastern Conference playoff team that the Cavaliers have been unable to figure out. If Boston had defeated Orlando, that series would've been done in five games or less (James spent most of this postseason salivating over the opportunity to destroy the KG-less Celtics).
I'm not ready to say that Cleveland won't bounce back and win the series. I have a sneaky suspicion that the Cavaliers will (and no, I didn't get a secret memo from the NBA commissioner, ABC/ESPN, Vitamin Water or those Nike puppets). That is based mostly on what Cleveland has accomplished throughout the entire season, but I'm not overly confident -- and the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Brian Windhorst pointed out this morning that the Magic has basically wiped out what the Cavaliers have achieved and turned them into the underdog. The Cavaliers are not going to advance if Mo Williams, West and Ilgauskas don't provide more help for James, who had 41 points in Game 3 and has scored 125 of his team's 291 points (42.9 percent) in the first three games. Williams, the all-star, gets a bit of a pass last night after having two spots around his eye split open by an Anthony Johnson elbow. Sun-Sentinel writer Ira Winderman has a really good take on the LeBroniers over at NBCSports.com.
Brown has historically gotten his teams to overachieve in the postseason. While the Cavaliers looked unbeatable against Detroit and Atlanta, they have their work cut out for them against Orlando. It's just amazing how the Cavaliers win 66 games, sweep the first two rounds and now the league's most valuable player all of sudden looks like a one-man team again.
At least James is approaching Cleveland's predicament with the appropriate amount of humility. "I'm only one guy," James told reporters in Orlando last night. "If I could clone myself, we'd be all right."
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