The NBA Playoffs, the Magic, and the Three Pointer

The Orlando Magic are down 0-2 in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. Sports sites and basketball experts are busy decoding every game and pinpointing the Magic’s struggle and one of the arguments you and I are sure to hear is that the Magic take too many threes.

The Magic have struggled to connect on the long range bombs making only 34.8 percent of shots beyond the arc in game one and 33.3 percent of those shots in game two. Considering that the good three point shooting teams hit around 38 percent of their long shots this is a problem, especially when you consider that 23 of the Magic’s 77 shots in the first game and 30 of the Magic’s 79 shots came from beyond the arc.

The Lakers have taken a mere 24 three point shots in the two games combined, so though the team has only made 33.3 percent or eight of those shots, their offense has not been devastated by the misses.

This will of course begin the conversation that I began to hear from the announcers in the Eastern Conference Finals when it became clear that the Magic were going to bury the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the NBA’s, finals dream. The sentiment was reiterated several times, seemingly at each miss, that the problem with the Magic is that they live and die by the three.

Common basketball wisdom states that the closer you are to the basket the easier it is to make the shot, so if the majority of your shots are from a farther distance then you are simply playing tempting fate to give you a bad night at the worst possible moment in a series.

I think that there is more to the distain color commentators and some (not all) experts have for the three. The first is that many times you have coaches, a Jeff Van Gundy or a Mike Fratello, dispersing their basketball wisdom from the safety of the sidelines where they do not have to suffer the wrath of fans seeking blood for losses and where their sports philosophy can be neatly justified on a single play.

These coaches like to win and to have control and it is easier to exert control by focusing on defense and slowing the pace of the game (i.e. not taking 20 threes and pounding the ball inside instead). A few do not mind letting the players have fun and play within a loose system. There are coaches like Don Nelson with 100+ points per game teams in the early 21st century when the game was still coming out of the guerilla play of the 1990s and suffering from an influx of high schoolers unaware of how to actually play the game. However, most coaches are like Jeff Van Gundy who expresses some disdain for the three and favors a suffocating defense (look at the Knicks in 1996-97) that has the effect of decreasing his team’s own scoring ability thanks to the level of control over the tempo of the game.

The second reason for the doubt of the power of the three is that in single-game elimination tournaments like the NCAA Tournament the great equalizer in every match up is the three point shot. No matter how overwhelmed a lower seed is by the size of the players and the level of talent on the higher seeded team, if they can shoot lights out and hit 50 percent of their shots from beyond the arc they have a chance for an upset. Thus, the three point shot take on this almost underdog association, so if a team takes a lot of three point shots then they must be covering up for a deficient offense.

The third and final reason I think people have issue with the three is that some of the teams that take the most three point shots do so with little regard to an actual offensive system that sets up good shots. This season the NBA saw a number of very good teams adopt the three point shot into their system successfully. Still, there were still teams like the Indiana Pacers and the New Jersey Nets that took 20 plus threes a game and missed the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. These teams did not get back on defense and played seemed to give up on the court sometimes.

The problem with all these arguments is that they do not necessarily apply to the Orlando Magic or today’s game. From a league stand point, if you look at the ten teams that took the most three point shots this season seven made the playoffs. There combined record was 474-346. If you look at the ten teams that took the least three point shots five made the playoffs, but the combined record was 365-455.

After years of changing rules to encourage a perimeter game and up the scoring it appears as though the three point shot has become a serious component of the best teams’ game. Cleveland, Orlando, and San Antonio were among those teams that took the most three point shots and they were all within the top three seeds in their conferences. The three point shot is no longer a weapon of choice for the underdog, but increasingly a nail in the coffin from the favorites.

From a team stand point, the Orlando Magic are not the happy-go-lucky shooting team that jacks up the long range bombs with abandonment. The team has an offense built around the post, or built around Dwight Howard. With Howard in the middle, four perimeter shooters, and solid ball movement the average three point shot is a good set shot. If anything, the offense is based on solid fundamentals, going in then out or simply finding the open shot. They get back on defense too, holding teams to 94.4 points per game during the regular season and 94.3 points per game in the postseason on their way to the finals.

If anything, John Hollinger of ESPN notes in the Daily Dime that the problem may actually be that the Orlando Magic guards are not pushing the ball for a secondary break. In a secondary break the ball is pushed up the court to one side quickly and then reversed to the other side where one of the solid shooters has set up for a good three point shot.

That lack of ball movement has, yes led to bad three point shots, but the answer is to find better three point shots, not abandon the perimeter. Then you may see Howard posting 40 point games where he faces single coverage and is free to get those thunderous put back dunks that killed the Cavs.

So, yes the Magic will live and die by the three, but after winning 59 games in the regular season and winning playoff series against the Celtics and the Cavs they are not predestined to die because of the three point shot. In fact, the answer to the 0-2 hole is take better three point shots and let those quality perimeter players make their open shots.

That will open up the inside game and make the Lakers choose between single coverage on Howard or hoping its defense can recover with three perimeter defenders on four good shooters.

So, yes, only three teams have come back from a 0-2 start to win the finals, but let’s not forget that the Magic have the great equalizer, the three point shot, on their side.

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Forget the Celtics-Lakers, Watch These Regional NBA Rivalries

Whenever anybody thinks of the NBA and can’t miss games, the same match up comes up, the game between the purple and gold Los Angeles Lakers and the green and white Boston Celtics. This is perhaps the only nationally recognized rivalry in basketball, which is odd considering that the NBA has been around since the 1940s (which is also why everyone was so excited about last year’s finals). However, if you live near a city lucky enough to have one of these professional basketball teams you know that there are plenty of regional rivalries that have as much passion or are revving up to be as intense as the ultimate East Coast-West Coast showdown.


Down in the deep swampy South there is a great rivalry brewing that pits two of the NBA’s younger teams against each other. Yes the Orlando Magic and the Miami Heat seemed to have been created in conflict. Many may not remember, but the Orlando Magic almost never came into existence. The NBA was looking to expand by a total of three teams in the late 1980s with only one team in Florida. That team was going to be located in Miami, but at the last second David Stern decided that the league could use a game in Orlando as well.

Thus, in 1988 the Miami Heat played their inaugural season and a year later the Orlando Magic played theirs. It is a historical match up of South Beach babes versus the Walt Disney World suburbia in the swamp lands known as Florida. The franchises have rarely been competitive, with the Shaq-Penny Hardaway days in Orlando giving way to the Pat Riley Atlantic Division champion days to close the 20th century.

So far the championship scale is in the Heat’s favor, 1-0, but both teams are becoming something special. The Orlando Magic are on top of the division with the league’s best big man Dwight Howard, a poor man’s Magic Johnson in Hedo Turkoglu, and the underscored Rashard Lewis. They look poised for a slew of Eastern Conference runs with Howard and Lewis tied up for five years and Turkoglu for the next two.

The Miami Heat are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference right now with a 39-35 record and do not have nearly the roster the Magic have, but they do have Dwayne Wade. Wade may not as much of a physical impossibility as LeBron James, but at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he is imposing his will and is leading the league in scoring at 29.9 ppg and has a complete game with 7.5 assists, 5 rebounds, 2.27 steals, and 1.38 blocks a game. In last night’s 101-95 loss to the Magic he kept he Heat close with 42 points.

The team was supposed to be a lottery bound this season, but the “Will of Wade” has made this club of rookies and unwanted vets a real competitor. This timely rivalry should be worth watching as long as Wade and Howard are playing, giving it a David versus Goliath theme every time on the court.

East Coast

This region is rightfully dominated by the Boston Celtics, but a little microcosm of bad feeling exists between the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets. The Knicks are one of the most recognizable basketball franchises in the world, and, until Jason Kidd worked some magic, the Nets were the forgotten team across a state border. Now, after Isiah Thomas’s disastrous term as team president, the Knicks are driving fans away. Many of those fans ended up loving the Nets. Add in a new Nets owner named Jay-Z and plans to move the team to Brooklyn and you have a regional rivalry worth watching in the New York City Metropolitan area.

Last season this rivalry was a chance to watch two dreadful teams disgrace the game of basketball, but this year the seeds of change have been planted and are already startinfg to bloom. Yes, Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni had fans thinking playoffs earlier in the year. The team has dropped off since and landed firmly in the lottery, but the style of play is once again beautiful and the future may include a player named LeBron James. The Nets have an exciting young point guard named Devin Harris (22.2 ppg and 7 apg), a possible future All Star center in Brooks Lopez (12.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg, and 1.8 blocks in his rookie season), and they have Vince Carter for four more years with an un-tradable contract (4 years, nearly 15 million per season).

Both teams are going to improve dramatically over the next couple of seasons and get to do battle for the title of best team near New York City. I may not want to watch either team in many other games, but I definitively want to see these teams play each other.


This region always seems to involve the Bulls. It was once a matter of whoever could beat the Bulls and Michael Jordan, then (after a very dark period) it was if the young Bulls could make a run at the Detroit Pistons, and, even now while the Cleveland Cavs are the best team in basketball, the best rivalry exists on I-94 between the Chicago Bulls and the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bulls have the probable rookie of the year winner in Derrick Rose and are quickly trying to forget the players’ revolt against Scott Skiles. The team is making a run at the 7th or 8th seed in the playoffs for a first round exit against the Cavs, Celtics, or Magic.

The Bucks, meanwhile have hired Skiles and are trying to make a team loaded with talent turn its losing ways around. They have Andrew Bogut, who will never be a great player, but could be a very good one; Richard Jefferson, whose future as a Buck is unclear; and Charlie Vilanueva, who shows flashes of brilliance as well as periods of complete ineptitude.

This rivalry dates back to the Jordan days and has been a treat for years. The only rationale is the logistics, the 92 miles of expressway that separate the Midwestern cities. While the Cavs games will surely be given national prominence (as they should), this game seems to bring up local latent frustrations from the Bears-Packers games during the NFL season.


The Southwest rivalry lies in the heart of Texas, where three teams are perpetually fighting for chance for the title. The San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Dallas Mavericks have been playing for the state title as well as the state title since the inception of Mark Cuban’s ownership of the Mavs.

It seems every single year since the beginning of the 21st century all three of these teams make a serious playoff run. Though the Spurs almost always come out on top thanks to four NBA titles since 1999, each season the Mavericks have a shot and the Rockets look like they may actually get out of the first round.

I like to look at this like a family with three brothers. The Spurs are the oldest brothers whose accomplishments are tormenting the younger two. The Mavericks are the middle brother that has defied conventional wisdom and is a constant threat to the oldest to best him. The Rockets are the youngest brother, constantly getting into the game and almost making a huge impact, but ultimately a few years away from stomping over the older two.

This tri-team rivalry seems to be a battle of the big men, with Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, and Yao Ming sure never to leave the Spurs, Mavs, and Rockets. As long as the big state of Texas dominates the bigs this rivalry should dominate the region, though the battle of the unknowns, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the unappreciated, the New Orleans Hornets, could be pretty interesting to watch in a couple of years.

West Coast

It is difficult to find a real rivalry out here since the Los Angles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, and Sacramento Kings seem to spend most of their time, historically, looking for a way to shoot themselves in the foot. Looking at the Pacific Division the Lakers-Suns season series seems like an obvious must-see, but the Suns always seem more of a true Southwest franchise and they have been thwarted by the Spurs more often than the Lakers. No, the regional rivalry out west is between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers.

If you look back at the Trail Blazers history you will see a team with Clyde Drexler, Tery Porter, and Jerome Kersey that almost broke through the Lakers, Pistons, and Celtics dominated era. They were outrun by the aging Showtime Lakers and simply could not become the team in the Western Conference to replace them.

Then in the late ‘90s and early 2000s the Trail Blazers were loaded with players like Rasheed Wallace, Arvydas Sabonis, Damon Stoudamire, Kenny Anderson, and Scottie Pippen. Though this team would shortly become the Jail Blazers, they were first the only real challenge to the Shaq-Kobe era Lakers championship teams. A terrible job by the referees in the 2000 Western Conference championship series robbed the team of an assured NBA championship and set things in motion for the unstable personnel to eventually destroy the once promising roster.

Now, the Trail Blazers have again created a superb young roster. They have guard Brandon Roy, power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, a potential defensive stopper in center Greg Oden, the super-athletic Travis Outlaw, and a European sensation in Rudy Fernandez.

This is definitely a one-sided rivalry right now, but this potential is widely recognized throughout the NBA and with the Lakers set for the future with Kobe, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum (if he can ever stay healthy) this is definitely the game to watch now and in the future. Let’s not forget, this is the game the NBA chose to open the season with and the NBA front office is a bunch of scheming marketers who know what games matter and what games do not.

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Pure Greatness or Sensational Center Skills, the NBA GM?s Dilemma

Which is rarer, pure greatness or a great center? This question came up after Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel posted the vexing question in anticipation for the Cleveland Cavaliers-Orlando Magic game on Thursday night. Essentially the article was asking what is more valuable to a championship team, a player with pure greatness like LeBron James or a player with an incredible set of skills for a true center?

I began this question by looking at the obvious, height. LeBron is 6 foot 8 and Howard is 6 foot 11. However people in general over the height of 6 foot 4 are such a small portion of the population that the only verifiable charts I found were for the population of the United States broken down by age and the ceiling was a bit short at 6 foot 4.

Basically, tall people are rare and tall people with enough balance to run down a court for 40 minutes a game and turn with lightening quickness (or penetrate with a crab dribble) are supremely rare. The basic thought among the team builders is that a center with All Star skills is simply so rare he is to be chosen above any other player when building a team.

The height and size allow the player to get easy baskets close to the rim and allow the team to protect the easiest part of the court on the end with game changing defense. Let’s face it. It is much more difficult to hit 50 percent of your midrange jump shots than finish even 50 percent of your layups. With a big man like Howard, teams will struggle to finish 40 percent of their interior baskets.

King James is not just a wing player. He is a powerful player built like a football player, but with a basketball mentality. He also qualifies for the Jordan-exception. Experts may like to say that 7 of the last 10 championships have been won by teams with dominate players in the middle. Shaq and the Los Angeles Lakers and the Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs have dominated this last decade.

Meanwhile stupendous guards like Kobe and Steve Nash have come up championship-less when they have no dominant player in the post.

Still, Lets not forget that Michael Jordan (listed at 6 foot 6, but I believe he was really closer to 6 foot 4) was the single greatest force in the NBA during the ‘90s. He won six championships in eight seasons. This was a decade with a young Shaq, a Dream Machine Hakeem Olajuwon, a great defending and shooting Patrick Ewing, the Admiral David Robinson, and Alonzo Mourning. Those are five truly great centers with good supporting casts that could not overcome Jordan’s pure greatness (and his supporting cast).

Even Schmitz notes in his article that NBA great Bill Walton (a center himself) will take such greatness at any position. On a side note Walton talks about MJ as an example yet I remember him exclusively picking any team but the Bulls each championship year because the Bulls had no real serviceable big man.

Anyway, I have to agree. James already took a Cavs team to the NBA Finals. True they came out of the height of the Leastern Conference moniker and the Spurs made them look like an unprepared malnourished team talent wise, but still James took a team with very little help to the big series already.

If you give Howard and James two guys who can play at least near All Star levels then I have to give the edge to James because he is simply so transcendent as a player.

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It’s Larry Bird Night in Orlando

Twenty-three. Yes, twenty three. I am not chanting Michael Jordan’s old number, but counting the number of three-point shots made by the Orlando Magic Tuesday night against the Sacramento Kings. The Magic hit 23 of 37 shots from beyond the arc to set an NBA record for the most triples made by a team in a single game. They were hitting shots from all over the place and nine players helped the Magic capture the record even after garbage time had started in the fourth quarter.

The Magic actually shot better from no man’s land (62.2 percent) than with twenty feet of the basket (60.5 percent). This is just the latest feather in the team’s cap, or decal on the team’s basketball shoes. The Magic already began the week at number two on Marc Stein’s power rankings. For those who are simply casual fans of the sport, these rankings are pretty much like the Page Six of the NBA. They do not really mean anything, but everyone wants to be in the hot spot and bask in the praise from ESPN.

The team helped remove the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers from the top two spots (LeBron James and the Cavs are rated number one) thanks to the same man who made the record-setting night possible. His name is Dwight Howard and he has been living up to the name Superman.

Howard is a 23-year-old, nearly seven feet tall beast in the post that ahs gone from a slam dunk attraction to a true force in actual NBA games. His strength, his leaping ability, and his maturation from the post now have teams double teaming him on every entry pass and every rebound. He still leads the league in rebounding with 13.8 boards a game and blocks with 3.22 a game and manages to average 20.2 points.

What makes him so good is that he recognizes when to pass the ball back out. In between the draw-dropping alley oops he manages to attract the extra defender and kick the ball out to any number of talented perimeter players on the Magic roster. Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, and even Jameer Nelson are having terrific seasons because of his presence.

This Magic team may even be better than the Magic team of the mid-90s that featured Shaq and Penny Hardaway before he became a walking insurance liability. While Howard may not be better than Shaq, his supporting cast compliments his strengths perfectly.

Meanwhile, the news that the Los Angeles Lakers fell to number three after injuries have suddenly brought their depth into question and the fact that the Boston Celtics continue to struggle after a historic start is getting buried.

The most telling development from this power shift is that the Eastern Conference, a.k.a. the Leastern Conference has three of the top four teams. The Cleveland Cavaliers are without a doubt the best team right now with LeBron James playing the kind of basketball that puts him in the Michael Jordan universe of greatness. Now, is probably the best time to start stock piling NBA tickets as the rest of the country slowly wakes up and realizes that the NBA on TNT, ABC, and ESPN is a good reason to stay in most nights of the week.

Ode to the Rebound, My New NBA Obsession

The glorious world of the NBA has fans who adorn their walls with pictures of tremendous athletes who can work magic with an orange leather ball. How many guys have LeBron James posterizing some poor second string guy trying to earn a multi-year contract and not be remembered as a cringing face on a highlight reel? How many have people have Dwayne Wade on the wall twisting and contorting his way through the lane for level of basketball awe and impossibility.

It’s not just scorers. Plenty of fans have Steve Nash slow driving past some poor susceptible guard and throwing a no look pass across his body to the right while looking left. There are millions of posters of Chris Paul tossing up an alley-oop to Tyson Chandler just about to go air born in the middle of the lane.

These are the sexy players with the sultry moves that David Stern wants to sell desperately to bring back the NBA to its former glory. Unfortunately, the blue-collar big boys only get some love on the Sportscenter top ten when they are catching a 12-foot lob a couple of feet from the rim.

No, these guys need some respect and their bread and butter needs some attention too. I am talking about rebounds. Twenty four players average more than 20 points a game, but only 9 players average over 10 rebounds a game.

Dwight Howard is leading the league with his performance in the middle for the Orlando Magic with 13.6 boards. He is a big name. There are plenty of other players. Marcus Camby is crashing the boards for the Los Angeles Clippers along with Zach Randolph. Andris Biedrins is becoming the sweet shooting lefty every coach desperately wants on the roster. Emeka Okafor is solid in Charlotte and David Lee has excelled in the new D’Antoni coached world of the New York Knicks.

Even Andrew Bogut is redeeming himself as a complete first pick bust at the Bradley Center for the Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, most of this list of power forwards and centers get to man the lanes without much love from the crowd, instead hearing more boos when they pick up a clumsy foul than cheers when picking up an errant missed free throw.

I declare that I will try and appreciate the box out as much as the buzzer beating three. I declare that every fan should encourage their seven footer, whether they are lumbering around the lane or sealing the block for a quick right jump hook.

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