Posted on: April 30, 2009 3:46 pm
The Orlando Magic entered the playoffs with the most important rookie starter on any team. They'll be leaving the playoffs soon if Courtney Lee misses the rest of the postseason due to a fractured sinus.
The news Thursday that Lee is expected to have surgery and could be out for the rest of the postseason is devastating for Orlando. A lot more devastating than losing Howard to a one-game suspension for Game 6 Thursday night. If Orlando stumbles, they'd still have a chance to close out the Sixers with Howard in a Game 7 Saturday in Orlando. But beyond that, they need Lee to challenge Cleveland in the East. They might even need Lee just to get past either Chicago or Boston to the conferece finals.
That's how important the rookie from Western Kentucky has become to the Magic. Not only is he their most consistent perimeter defender, but his 3-point shooting has been reliable all season. Despite falling victim to a team-wide shooting slump against the Sixers -- Lee was shooting an uncharacteristic 29 percent from beyond the arc when he went down -- Orlando needs his deep shooting threat to make a prolonged playoff run.
Fortunately for the Magic, they can plug Mickael Pietrus back into the starting lineup. Pietrus has more size and strength and can defend bigger wing players. But he didn't shoot as well from 3-point range during the regular season (.359 compared to .404 for Lee), and Lee's dribble-penetration has picked Orlando up at key points in the series.
If you missed my story on Lee before the playoffs started, here it is.
Posted on: April 29, 2009 2:08 pm
Sixers GM Ed Stefanski told radio station WIP in Philadelphia Wednesday that Dwight Howard should be suspended and likened his elbow to the head of Samuel Dalembert to a punch.
“I have no idea what the league will do, but to me the rule is black and white, it’s clear," Stefanski said. "What I saw was clear. I felt an elbow above the shoulders made contact on someone’s head and it wasn’t part of the play.”
Here's the transcript and audio link from SportsRadioInterviews.com.
Posted on: April 19, 2009 9:31 pm
I stand by those comments. But the Sixers? I didn't think Orlando had that kind of choke job up its sleeve in Game 1 of a harmless first-round series against a team with an interim coach, interim point guard, interim power forward, and very interim playoff hopes.
The Sixers? Blowing an 18-point lead against the Sixers? Wow.
Maybe Shaq was right. Maybe Stan Van Gundy is the master of panic. He was sweating and hyperventilating so much Sunday night -- at least every time they showed him on TV -- that it's hard to imagine his team drawing any confidence from that.
The Sixers? What do they care? Nobody expected them to do anything in this series -- least of all me, who predicted Orlando would be the only team to sweep in the first round. So much for that. I was right about one thing, though. Andre Iguodala is going to be a problem for Orlando.
I gagged when Iguodala missed those two free throws down the stretch, but when he crossed over and stepped back on Hedo Turkoglu for the game-winning 22-footer, it looked like a move that was perfected years ago in Philadelphia by another guy with the initials A.I. Interesting choice by Van Gundy to go with Turkoglu -- on a bum ankle -- against Iguodala, the Sixers' only scoring threat with enough game-changing ability to worry the Magic. His size and length makes sense, but I wonder if the combination of the ankle and chasing Iguodala contributed to Turkoglu's 2-for-8, six-point performance on the offensive end.
There's nothing to panic about for the Magic. The trend in this year's playoffs seems to be heavy underdogs winning Game 1 on the road. The Sixers have pulled off Game 1 stunners before, only to lose the series. (See their 90-86 victory at Detroit in Game 1 last year, which ultimately resulted in a 4-2 series loss.)
The real test of a playoff team is how it responds after taking one on the chin. The Magic could respond like Mighty Mouse or Minnie Mouse. Based on their body of work to this point in the season, those scenarios are equally likely.
Posted on: April 13, 2009 4:36 pm
Relief would be a good word to describe the state of mind in Orlando Monday with word that Hedo Turkoglu experienced no swelling or discoloration in his sprained left ankle and will be good to go for the playoffs.
"To be quite honest, if this were a game we had to have, I think he could actually go (Monday night)," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said, according to the intrepid Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel. Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis (knee tendinitis) both will sit against the Bucks in Milwaukee.
If Van Gundy has been trying to hide his combination of horror and then relief over Turkoglu's injury, he's done a good job. If this were a long-term injury, you could pretty much take the same fork I told you to stick in the Spurs when they lost Manu Ginobili and apply it surgically to the Magic's title chances. This is a good development. The more healthy contenders, the better. Can't wait for Saturday to get here.
Posted on: April 11, 2009 10:37 pm
Even when a team gives up on the regular season and tries to rest its stars for the playoffs, the injury bug finds them.
Before the Magic played the Nets Saturday night, Hedo Turkoglu sat casually in the visiting locker room, chatting with a teammate. In the hallway outside, coach Stan Van Gundy had just finished telling reporters how important it was to sit Rashard Lewis so his knees would heal for the postseason, and how he was going to limit minutes for Dwight Howard and Turkoglu the next few games. Van Gundy had decided to concede the No. 2 seed to Boston and focus on getting their bodies healthy for what they expect to be a long, rigorous postseason journey.
"We're like a punch-drunk fighter right now," Van Gundy said, "trying to stay on our feet."
Down go the Magic! Down go the Magic!
Nobody is immune to the rash of injuries to star players this season. What, is the championship going to be determined by default based on which team has five starters left for Game 7 of the Finals?
It's getting ridiculous. The Celtics taking every precaution with Kevin Garnett ... the Cavs without Ben Wallace ... the Lakers only now getting Andrew Bynum back ... half the roster in Utah ... Tyson Chandler in New Orleans ... I could go on, but I'd forget somebody. Or somebody else would get hurt by the time I finish this sentence.
The Magic dodged one major injury by trading for point guard Rafer Alston to replace Jameer Nelson, who is out for the year with a shoulder injury. Now they have to hope that sprained left ankle suffered by Turkoglu in the fourth quarter Saturday night is no worse than the X-rays said it was. X-rays were negative, and Turkoglu is listed as day-to-day. If I were Van Gundy, I'd bench Howard, Alston, Lewis, and assistant coach Patrick Ewing for the final two regular season games.
You never know, he might need Ewing to suit up for the conference semifinals.
If this trend keeps up, the Philadelphia 76ers are going to win the title. There'll be nobody else left.
Posted on: April 11, 2009 6:54 pm
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Stan Van Gundy is taking a page from the Celtics' playbook. It's more important to get healthy for the playoffs than it is to get a higher seed.
Rashard Lewis will sit Saturday night and again Monday for the Orlando Magic, resting tendinitis in both knees so he's healthy for the playoffs. After Van Gundy had to play Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu 40-plus minutes apiece Friday night in a 105-95 home loss to the Knicks, he's not taking any more chances. Lewis will get one final tuneup for the postseason Wednesday night in the regular season finale against Charlotte.
"I thought trying to get the No. 2 seed was important," Van Gundy said. "Mathematically, it's still possible. But the combination of where we are and what we need to have happen and Rashard's knees, I think the prudent course is to sit him down and to try to get him feeling better. ... We've sort of gotten into fatigue. We're sort of like a punch-drunk fighter right now, just trying to stay on our feet."
In addition to resting Lewis, Van Gundy said he'll start cutting down minutes for Howard and Turkoglu in the final three games. Orlando's first-round matchup is still up in the air among Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit.
"Who we play is realyl of no concern of mine," Van Gundy said. "There's not an easy matchup in there and there's not one we can't win in there. That doesn't concern me, other than from a preparation standpoint and that's why you'd like to see it narrowed down so that we can start focusing in on somebody."
Posted on: March 24, 2009 8:49 pm
All I can guarantee about Celtics-Magic IV Wednesday night is that there will be a lot of complaining.
Before. During. After. Would you like some whine with that second seed?
Nobody whines for respect from the officials like the Celtics and Magic. OK, and the Cavs. OK, and the Lakers. Anyway, nobody in the playoff picture in either conference has a bigger inferiority complex than Orlando. Last we saw these teams together, the Magic nearly blew a 22-point third-quarter lead with Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo wearing suits. (Nice ones, but suits.) Afterward, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy -- admit it, you can't get enough of him, can you? -- proceeded to complain about how the Magic are regarded nationally as an also-ran .500 team. Gee, after that performance, I wonder why?
Not satisfied with taking out one Eastern hub of the Revolutionary War this month, Van Gundy took aim at New York Monday night. The Knicks planned this nice, respectable little shin-dig for their legends, and Van Gundy used the opportunity to complain about how the Knicks never made any effort to hire Patrick Ewing. I'm sure Van Gundy's motivations are pure (wink-wink), but maybe it's something as simple as this: He's tired of his 7-foot freak of nature, Dwight Howard, who is coached by Ewing, getting pushed around by the likes of Leon Powe.
Anyway, Boston and Orlando in the middle of the NCAA's Sweet 16 is about as good as it gets in late March in the NBA. The Celtics finally are at almost-full strength. (Tune in to the pregame interviews, and Doc Rivers will fill you in on all the physical misfortune the poor Celtics have endured. By the time tipoff arrives, you'll be stuffing money in an envelope and sending it to the big bank building/Garden on Causeway Street. Just a dollar a day can keep the starting five in the whirlpool through the conference semifinals.)
The Magic are beginning what will be a fascinating mission to clear hurdles that sent them home prematurely the past two years. They're too soft. All they do is shoot threes. No killer instinct. You know the drill.
They're catching the Celtics at a time when Boston has taken more lumps than it's used to lately. Now the defending champs are looking to inflict some. The Magic, to their credit, are actually stating their preference for a first-round opponent: Their nemesis, the Pistons, who have swept them and cut them down 4-1 in the past two postseasons. This is one thing I greatly admire about Orlando. They recognize the natural progression that great teams before them have followed. You have to beat the team that's knocked you out before.
"Hopefully we play Detroit again," Howard said Monday night after Orlando beat the Knicks. "That'd be good for us because I think we have to get over that hump. Those guys have beaten us two years in a row and they left a bad taste in our mouth. Hopefully, this year it’ll be different Every year, I don’t know what it is about the Pistons, but they seem to have our number and we need to get over that hump mentally. There’s teams around the league that give us problems, and they’re one of those teams. In order to grow out of it, we have to mentally step up to the challenge and beat those guys."
Well, as things stand now, if Orlando can pass the Celtics for the second seed, they'd get their wish and face the Pistons in the first round. But there's a lot more at stake than that. Not the least of which is to see which team does more complaining, lobbying, and whining. I'm picking the Magic in that department, but don't count out the champs.
Posted on: March 8, 2009 1:14 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2009 6:41 pm
It's Marbury's first start since Jan. 11, 2008, when he had 13 points and eight assists for the Knicks in a home loss to Toronto. After that game, Marbury elected to have foot surgery and missed the rest of the season. The rest is history -- the benching in the season opener by Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, the banishment from the team over refusing to play, the lengthy contract dispute, and finally a buyout that freed him up to sign with the Celtics.
Welcome to the Gah-den. Happy to be here to bring you the Brooklyn vs. Queens point guard matchup between Marbury and Rafer Alston.
Brooklyn we go hahd, we go hahd ...
UPDATE: Marbury played about the way you'd expect after such a long gap between starts. He was 2-for-5 with four points and no assists. His timing and conditioning still have a long way to go, and a problem he had even when he was healthy and in good graces with the Knicks was evident again: Steph can still get to the basket whenever he wants to, but he can't finish the way he used to. Hey, it comes with age and not playing competitive basketball for almost 14 months.
Marbury was unable to play at the tempo the Celtics needed to keep the Magic off balance, which is why Doc Rivers went with Eddie House at the point for most of the third and all but the final 14 seconds of the fourth. With Marbury on the bench, Boston climbed back from a 22-point third-quarter deficit and got it down to single digits before falling to Orlando, 86-79.
I wished him luck after his postgame interview, and he thanked me and asked how I was. No hug. No hard feelings. No feelings at all, really. He plays ball and I write about it. One thing I'll say about him is that he almost always understands that.