Tuesday May 26th, 2009

ORLANDO -- While Cleveland guard Mo Williams was guaranteeing a victory in Game 4 and in the Eastern Conference finals overall, the Magic were trying to create a similar sense of desperation. They've earned a 2-1 series lead while winning eight of the last 10 quarters, but a loss here Tuesday in Game 4 would undo all of those gains and restore home-court advantage to LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

The Magic understand they cannot afford the up-and-down level of play that marked their preceding series against Philadelphia and Boston.

"It is tough to get quite the same focus in approach coming off a win as there is coming off a loss,'' Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy conceded. "There's just something coming off a loss, when you feel you just have to win the next game. And that's something you've got to learn to overcome if you want to have any kind of prolonged success in the playoffs.

"What we try to do is get ourselves focused back on things we need to do a lot better. There's not a whole lot separating these two teams, so whether you win or lose, it shouldn't affect how much you focus and are able to make adjustments the next game. Because it's not like anybody has killed anybody and should feel like, Boy, we've got all the answers and we're playing tremendously.''

The pressure Orlando feels to continue building on its advantages can be recognized and measured in the play of small forward Hedo Turkoglu. Since a midseason shoulder injury to All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson robbed the Magic of their leader, the 6-foot-10 Turkoglu has taken on more responsibility at the point, especially in key sequences of the second halves.

The matchup problems created by Orlando have been the story of this series, and those mismatches multiply when Turkoglu is running the offense because it enables the Magic to replace the 6-2 Rafer Alston or 6-3 Anthony Johnson with 6-5 shooting guard Courtney Lee.

"Believe it or not, a lot of it is for defensive reasons,'' Van Gundy said of how he decides to put Turkoglu in charge. "Because then we're a little bit bigger on the floor with Courtney there, and it allows us to do some things defensively.

"But also it forces the ball into Hedo's hands -- we don't have to get it to him, nobody has to make a decision to get it to him, he's going to handle it. It makes sure the ball is in his hands, and if he's making good plays and decisions, that's usually when we're at our best.''

As the biggest basketball talent produced by his country, Turkoglu has been in some ways the Turkish LeBron, a scorer who also excels in creating plays for others. The European approach to developing players like Turkoglu is to school them in all aspects of the offensive game, and in this round the 30-year-old is averaging 16.3 points and a series-leading 8.3 assists.

In addition, Turkoglu has made a wholehearted effort to defend James. With one second remaining in Game 2, Turkoglu succeeded in taking away LeBron's first option by blocking his lane to the basket for a potential game-tying layup or dunk from an inbounds lob. James responded by bouncing off Turkoglu and setting him on his heels to create space at the three-point line for a catch-and-shoot game-winner that will keep Turkoglu in NBA highlights shows long after he has retired.

"I tried, man,'' Turkoglu said in his thick accent. "But good thing about the NBA, something always amazing happens.''

While James is putting together a terrific series statistically with 41.7 points and 7.3 assists, that isn't necessarily a winning formula for Cleveland. His teammates, led by Williams, are failing to exploit the opportunities and open shots that are created by sharing the ball with the league MVP, which explains why the top-seeded Cavs are in this predicament even as James is dominating individually.

The Magic, meanwhile, are sharing the ball despite Nelson's absence. One easy way to gauge this series is through the matchup of Turkoglu and James. As Van Gundy acknowledged earlier in the playoffs, Turkoglu can be "mediocre'' when he isn't playing aggressively. But that hasn't been a concern so far against Cleveland. Even though he shot 1-for-11 in Game 3, Turkoglu produced a near triple-double by going 11-of-12 from the free-throw line to get most of his 13 points in addition to leading the Magic with 10 rebounds and seven assists.

He is not lacking in confidence, either, in his matchup with LeBron.

"He tries to guard me and I take advantage of him, too, use him in as many pick-and-rolls as I can,'' Turkoglu said. "I just attack and just be aggressive.''

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