Your 2010-11 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award winner, everybody!
The Orlando Magic: Dwight Howard once again left his Tyrannosaur-sized footprint on the game -- 25 points, 8-for-13 from the field, 9-for-12 from the line, 15 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, 2 assists and a steal -- but that's pretty much where the good news ended for the Magic. Orlando was revealed, once again, as an experiment in shoddy team building.
It's hard to believe that, two short seasons ago, the Magic made it all the way to the NBA Finals. Of course, after that success, they compounded the error of having given an obscene contract to Rashard Lewis by ditching key cog Hedo Turkoglu in favor of Vince Carter. Then, when that didn't work out, they shipped out Lewis and Carter -- along with Marcin Gortat, who was Howard's only real backup -- in return for Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Turkoglu Part 2.
Richardson made sense, I guess, because he was a three-point shooter and as far as anyone could tell a consistent scoring threat. But Arenas is finished as an elite player -- that should have been obvious to anyone -- and The Return of Turkoglu seemed destined to prove that sequels are never as good as the original.
Oh, and I haven't even mentioned how the Magic outbid the Bulls for the services of J.J. Redick. Who got injured. And doesn't play defense.
On that subject, none of Orlando's key players ever played much defense, except Howard. In fact, Howard earned his Defensive Player of the Year award for making every single defensive play for the Magic all season. I may need to double-check that number, but it feels right, doesn't it?
Defense and overall ability aside, the Magic were built on the strength of Howard's outside game and the outside shooting ability of his teammates. If Mike D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns teams had a Seven Seconds or Less offense, then Stan Van Gundy's system should have been called "Dunk or a Three." Only this year's squad wasn't a great three-point shooting team. They were decent, I guess, ranking 10th at 36.6 percent.
Still...that made them only 0.1 of a point out of 15th place. So, in reality, they were somewhere between average and above-average when shooting threes. And that really wasn't good enough. Not with how their offense is supposed to work. Sure enough, outside shooting doomed Orlando against the Hawks. For the series, the Magic shot 26.2 percent from downtown. Last night, in an elimination game, they went 5-for-19 from beyond the arc.
To make matters worse, they were outrebounded 39-31 including 14-7 on the offensive glass. That's significant considering their season came down to an offensive board. The Hawks were up 82-81 with 12 seconds left when Marvin Williams bricked a three. Had the Magic simply gathered in the rebound, they could have won by making any shot. Unfortunately for the Orlando faithful, Joe Johnson came up with the board and got it to Jamal Crawford. Arenas was forced to foul, after which Crawford calmly knocked down both 'throws.
Credit the Magic (and an illegal pick by Howard) for getting Redick wide open for a potential game-tying three-bomb with three seconds left. But the shot was even wider left than it was open. Atlanta came up with the rebound but landed out of bounds, setting up a final opportunity for the Magic with one second left. But it was no chance at all: Richardson's shot was blocked by Josh Smith.
The future doesn't look so bright for the Magic. They're locked into long-term deals for Arenas and Turkoglu, and Howard can bolt after next season. I'd say "Maybe the front office can make a canny move" but, if they could do that, the team might not be going home early.
Update! Jameer Nelson: This stat curse has to go right up there with Devin Harris' infamous "I knew we were going to be a playoff team" and "Playoffs, baby" stat curses.
Hey, Jameer, you can still make this prediction come true. Chicago could always use another ball boy. You're certainly the right height for the job.
Stan Van Gundy, quote machine: "A team that fights as hard as our guys did, and I couldn't get them over the hump to win this series, that really is disappointing to me and the job that I did as a coach. I'm just disappointed not to be able to get my team over the hump."
I'm not sure what more Van Gundy could have done. Make Jameer Nelson taller? Use faith healing to fix Arenas' knee? Shoot his players' threes for them?
Experts: Basketbawful reader stephanie g provided the following images of fail:
Not that I have much room to talk. While talking to BadDave on Wednesday night, I guaranteed Orlando would come back and win the series. Last night, pretty much as the final buzzer sounded, BadDave started blowing up my phone.
So, yeah, I was wrong. Grumble, grumble, grumble.
The New Orleans Hornets: It stuns me that so many people fooled themselves into thinking this was an actual, you know, playoff series. Yes, the Hornets won two games, but it took two absolutely superhuman performances by Chris Paul plus step-up games from guys like Aaron Gray and Jarrett Jack to pull off those victories.
Honestly, it's a testament to CP3 that some people -- make that "many people" -- really thought he could single-handedly destroy the Lakers any time he wanted. That it would be that easy. The extent to which those two wins changed perception about Paul was astounding. He went from being generally considered one of the best (if not the best) point guards in the league to possibly the greatest ever. I was honestly prepared for a "It's God disguised as Chris Paul!" quote from somebody, and some of the comments on ESPN's recent Daily Dime Live chats were damn close.
Here's what I want to know: Have people not followed the Lakers for the past decade? Or, more accurately, have people not followed Phil Jackson's coaching career?
Look, lots of players have burned Jackson's teams for a game or two. Especially guards. Tony Parker is an example that springs to mind. And then, after some adjustments are made, those players usually get shut down. It happened when Jackson was in Chicago and it's happened during his two stints in L.A.
And it happened again last night. Paul had a double-double (10 points and 11 assists) but shot only 4-for-9, attempted only one free throw and committed a game-high 5 turnovers. He never took over the game for any stretch of time and finished with a co-game-worst plus-minus score of -17. Jackson designed a defense that almost completely took Paul out of the game. With predictable results: New Orleans fell behind by as many as 21 points and eventually lost 98-80.
The defining moment of last night's game, the instant I knew the series was truly over, was when Paul grabbed a rebound and then got knocked over by Ron Artest, who stole the ball, laid it in, and then flexed for the crowd. The Hornets never really recovered from that play.
There was more at work than L.A.'s defense on Paul or Artest's Hulk Hogan impression. The Lakers' size advantage finally squashed the smaller Hornets. To wit: L.A. had a 43-30 rebounding edge, including a 14-7 on the offensive glass, which in turn led to a 21-4 advantage in second-chance points. Andrew Bynum, who had 8 offensive boards, was particularly devastating.
Said Hornets coach Monty Williams: "Every time he got an offensive rebound, it was deflating. You don't really realize how good he is until you face him in a series. Kobe's Kobe, but I thought Bynum decided the series. He was that good."
Added Phil Jackson: "The size and depth of our team wore them down in the end."
That it did.
Reggie Miller, possibly unintentionally dirty quote machine: On the relationship between Jackson and Bynum: "I think they had a coming of the minds after the All-Star break." When I heard this one, I immediately jotted it down in my notebook, but Basketbawful reader Wormboy also e-mailed it in.
The Portland Frail Blazers: This game down to execution and hitting shots. The Mavericks did those two things. The Blazers did not.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Dallas went 31-for-55 (56.4 percent) in their half-court sets after the first quarter. I don't mean to oversimplify things, but the Mavs played like a veteran team that's been there and done that. The Blazers didn't.
Dirk Nowitzki (33 points, 11-for-17, 11-for-11 at the line, 11 rebounds, 4 assists) played up to his reputation instead of down to it. LaMarcus Aldridge (11-for-25 from the field, only 2-for-4 at the line) did the opposite.
Said Jason Terry: "We're such a confident team. We have so many veteran guys, starting at the top with Jason Kidd on down to Dirk, that we believe. Especially in close ballgames, we've been winning them all season long. So we're confident."
Added Aldridge: "I think everybody played their hearts out tonight. I thought everybody gave it their all, we put it on the line. They just made more plays than us."
That's the thing, you know? The Blazers played okay. The Mavs just played better.
As for the Mavericks' chances against the Lakers, let me put it this way: According to Hoopdata, Dallas ranks 28th in the league in FGA at the rim and 5th in three-pointers attempted. The Mavs are a jump shooting team. L.A.'s size is gonna wear 'em down, just like it did to the Hornets.
Chris' Playoff Lacktion Report:
Magic-Hawks: As the dirty birds took out the alchemists from Florida, wealth was handed down on both sides of the table, with Orlando's Quentin Richardson cueing up a 5.45 trillion (5:28) and Atlanta's Hilton Armstrong receiving a final voucher for a 2.25 trillion stay (2:15).
Jason Collins went 100% from the field (on one attempt) in 16:41 as starting big man, even gathering up two boards...only to foul and lose the rock thrice each for a 6:4 Voskuhl.
Lakers-Hornets: Remember when this series was...interesting? Seems so long ago, doesn't it? At least Joe Smith and Patrick Ewing Jr. each became the proud holder of a 1 trillion bank note.
Mavs-Frail Blazers: Brendan Haywood burned out four boards in 15:18 with three bricks, a turnover, and four fouls for a 5:4 Voskuhl.