Los Angeles 2, Orlando 0
Game 3: Tuesday, 9 ET, ABC
Fans of teams that play deep into June subject themselves to an emotional roller coaster. The Lakers and Magic have been particularly merciless to their fans. If you follow either team, your stomach has been in knots for eight weeks.
The playoffs weren't 36 hours old before the Magic surfaced as the high seed most likely to suffer a first-round upset. Even as Orlando advanced, they blew enough leads along the way to have observers singing that old hokum that the Magic needed to "learn how to win" before they could seriously contend.
Moments after the Magic's Game 5 collapse to Boston, Zach McCann of Orlando Magic Daily wrote, "That Game 5 meltdown was absolutely painful. I have a lump in my stomach thicker than Brian Scalabrine's thighs. My night is ruined."
Two weeks later, McCann and the Magic faithful were celebrating one of the bigger upsets in conference finals history with their Game 6 win over Cleveland. That night, McCann euphorically summed up the tumultuous ride this way: "The NBA Finals never seemed possible But this team grew up in the playoffs and evolved into an elite team that won't quit, that won't go down without a fight under any circumstance. It takes some tough times (struggling against Philadelphia in round one). It takes adversity (Jameer Nelson's injury). It takes inner-conflict (Dwight Howard's touches). It takes growth (Courtney Lee's emergence). It takes seemingly insurmountable odds (down 3-2 to Boston). It takes adjustments (Rafer Alston). It takes unity."
A little over a week (and a razor-thin Courtney Lee miss) later, Magic fans are back in the doldrums. Woody Wommack of OMD wrote that when Lee's shot missed, "I just had a feeling that the Magic weren't going to be able to pull it out in overtime."
Lakers fans have had an equally volatile, but entirely different sort of ride. Burdened with exceedingly high expectations, Lakers partisans have coped with an incredibly talented team that turned in lackluster efforts against inferior opponents for the better part of the playoffs. Following the Lakers' Game 4 blowout loss to a Yao-less Rockets team, Kurt Helin of Forum Blue & Gold penned a thoughtful post that articulated every Lakers fan's resignation about their confounding, mercurial team. "[I'm] beginning to accept that their Achilles' heel is focus and motivation, that it will come and go, and that will not change. During the regular season, two quarters of the good Lakers may often be enough, and during the playoffs it will not be. But I'm pretty much done talking about lessons learned, thinking this team has finally turned a mental corner, because I don't think it has and I don't think it will."
The Lakers finally seemed to turn the corner after their Game 5 win over Denver in the conference finals. Their dominant performance prompted Helin to write, "Now that was the Lakers team I remembered." As their team has sustained that momentum, Lakers fans have been brimming with confidence. After last night's overtime win for the Lakers, Helin wrote, "[The Lakers] are going about their business and saying all the right things. As a fan, I am smiling a little more now. Despite how close game two was, I feel more confident after that game than I did before it started, and not just because of the 2-0 series lead."
The Lakers come into Central Florida on a roll, but there's just something about this bipolar postseason -- and both the Lakers and Magic -- that makes you think both teams still have a bout or two of indigestion to contend with before the ride comes to a complete stop. Hold on tight.
ESPN Stats And Information
Kobe Bryant had 40 points and eight assists in Game 1. He posted 29 points and eight assists in Game 2. What does that add up to? The last four players who reached those thresholds through two games went on to become the NBA Finals MVP.
|69-16 Through First 2 Games of NBA Finals|
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
While the Staples Center floor is often littered with celebrities, Tiger Woods, one of the Magic's foremost season-ticket holders, could be in Orlando's house for Game 3, rooting on his childhood favorites ... the Lakers.
|Teams Down 3-0 in Best-of-Seven Series In Major North American Sports|
|NHL||161||2||('42 Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings; '75 Islanders vs. Penguins)|
|MLB||31||1||('04 Red Sox vs. Yankees)|
But my spies in Orlando say the bigger problem is the lack of a quick push upcourt from the guards. The way the Magic often burn opponents isn't on a traditional fast break, but by pushing the ball quickly up one side and then reversing it for a wide-open 3 on the weak side. Lewis, in particular, killed Cleveland with this in the Eastern Conference finals, but it hasn't been a problem for the Lakers in the first two games of the Finals.
Sunday's game proves once again that the finish matters much more than the start. That was an exciting, memorable game despite the fact that the first 20 minutes were gouge-my-eyes-out awful. The game set the record for the lowest-scoring first quarter in Finals history at 15-15. Much of the second was even worse, and the score was only 29-26 with 4½ minutes left in the half before both sides awakened. It wasn't like it was a riveting defensive battle, either. It was mostly ugly bricks and bad turnovers, including a series of illegal screens and three-second violations.
To read the entire PER Diem, click here
Ahmad (Calif.): Are we all guilty of Fisher-hating prematurely?
J.A. Adande: Not everybody, just those who wanted to fire Phil Jackson for playing Derek Fisher at all. It's fair to criticize Fisher's 37 percent shooting in the playoffs. But have you seen anything from Jordan Farmar or Shannon Brown that warrants heavy minutes? Farmar was looking for his own shot too much in Game 2, and is prone to making turnovers. Brown isn't used to playing at this high level. Fisher keeps making little plays that are big. Sometimes it's as subtle as an extra pass. Sometimes it's as big as that steal last night. Um, I think Phil knows what he's doing.
To read the full J.A. Adande chat, click here