The Series Really Begins On Sunday
Although Phil Jackson never loses a series when his team wins Game 1 --really, it never happens, he's 43-0 -- I'm not ready to hand the Los Angeles Lakers the championship or dismiss the Orlando Magic just yet, based on what happened last night. The Lakers won in blowout fashion, 100-75, over a Magic team that seemed a bit spooked about being on the big stage -- and facing Kobe Bryant, who appears to be auditioning for the role of Jason Voorhees in the next Friday the 13th movie with his determined, menacing scowl.
Last night was a rare Game 1 letdown for the Magic, which opened its series against the defending champion Boston Celtics and the 66-win Cleveland Cavaliers with surprising victories. Orlando started out pretty well through the first 15 minutes, taking a five-point lead early in the second period, but the Lakers outscored the Magic 72-42 the rest of the game.
Orlando looked like a clueless bunch of novices -- which it was -- that had no idea what the Finals are all about. Shaquille O'Neal, the former Magic and Lakers center, even decided to add to Orlando's humiliation by posting on photograph on his Twitter site, THE_REAL_SHAQ, showing what the child of Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard would look like.
I was shocked that it had taken Bryant this long to have a 40-point game in the NBA Finals. I always thought that he topped that during his previous best Finals performance in Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals, when that skinny 21-year-old kid with the Afro led the Lakers to an overtime win over the Indiana Pacers after O'Neal had fouled out. I was shocked to see that Bryant only finished with 28 points that night.
But too many oddities occurred in Game 1. First off, I found it quite amusing that at different times last night, Lakers fans chanted, "Magic [Stinks]! Magic [Stinks]!" Did you ever think that Lakers fans would ever say that, considering some guy named Magic led the franchise to five NBA championships and has a statue out in front of Staples Center?
As for the Magic, there were some other things that made me think that this game was a fluke, that Orlando was a victim of the Stage Fright Factor. Howard, coming off his 40-point, 14-rebound game in the series clincher against Cleveland, was only allowed to take six shots. Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis shot a combined 5-for-21 from the field.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that Andrew Bynum has the strength, the length and lateral quickness and Pau Gasol has the length and quick enough feet to make Howard work for his shots. Turkoglu and Lewis also don't have the same matchup advantages against Trevor Ariza, Gasol and Lamar Odom that they had in previous series against the likes of Glen "Big Baby" Davis, Brian Scalabrine, Anderson Varejao and Ben Wallace.
But the Lakers have proven that they can be a complacent team this postseason, while the Magic is the same resilient team that has overcome deflating buzzer-beaters against Davis and LeBron James. It also bounced back from an 18-point loss to Boston in Game 2 of the conference semifinals to hammer the Celtics by 21 in the next game.
Game 2 will go a long way toward determining what to truly expect from the Magic. Like Coach Stan Van Gundy said, his team is better than it played on Thursday. It's kind of easy to toss aside that sort of loss, blame it on the jitters of Finals newcomers and move on. Orlando will also have two days to get it right after realizing that the intensity has increased even more in the fourth round of the NBA playoffs.
The next game should be better and offer a glimpse of the Real Orlando Magic. If not, the next game could be the last one in Los Angeles this season.
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