Tuesday June 9th, 2009

ORLANDO -- The Magic have recovered from a variety of deficits this postseason, whether in losses suffered to last-second shots or the absence of starters either suspended or injured. Now they face a new kind of all-or-nothing pressure. A win in Game 3 of the Finals Tuesday against the visiting Lakers could launch them back into contention for the championship, and a loss will all but ruin them.

"I will say this: I'm not sure I've got another lineup to throw out there that you haven't seen," said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy after the Magic lost Game 2 in OT 101-96 to fall behind 2-0. "I don't have another one now."

Van Gundy has stabbed at every rotation worth trying in an attempt to leverage single-coverage in the post against Dwight Howard, who has been held to a total of 29 points (6-of-16) with 9 turnovers.

"We played with no point guard, we played conventionally," said Van Gundy. "We had Rashard [Lewis] at the three, we played Hedo [Turkoglu] at the one, two and three, we played big. What do they say? Just keep throwing stuff at the wall and hope something sticks."

But the time for experimenting is over. Now that they're returning home for as many as three games -- knowing they must sweep Game 3 through 5 to give themselves any kind of reasonable chance -- they need to return to the bold high-tempo basics that launched them through the Eastern conference. At least that's what Lakers coach Phil Jackson is anticipating.

"It's going to be a big event for their town," said Jackson of the first Finals here since 1995. "We know there's going to be a lot of energy that's surrounding their team. We're going to have to play in a situation where we're going to have to use all our centers, foul situations, and I think that's where they're going to be best -- at running and fast-breaking."

The Lakers have prevented the Magic from exploiting the open floor, and they've been especially successful in detaining Howard from establishing early position around the basket. When the entry passes have come his way he has seemed a step slow in his moves. He has dribbled or spun into double teams, and Pau Gasol has been adept at stripping him on the way up.

That's why the Magic need hot shooting from their guards. On Sunday their five-man backcourt rotation was a combined 6-for-26, including 1-for-12 from the three-point line.

"We just couldn't get the ball in the basket, so we were searching for somebody to be able to make a shot," said Van Gundy. "Obviously, we didn't find anybody."

Another symptom of their failure to develop Howard in the post was the 20 turnovers the Magic yielded in Game 2, most of them forced by the Lakers' crowded defense in the paint. "I don't think it's much trouble to get our guards shots -- they're not guarding them," said Van Gundy of the Lakers. "They're only guarding three guys."

Those three being the frontcourt of Howard, Turkoglu and Lewis. But the Magic made it to the Finals with scoring from all sides of the three-point arc, a template that punished defenses for loading up. Can they recreate that formula in time to rescue this series?

They'd better.

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