ORLANDO -- It is clear
As much as Van Gundy won't admit, however, experience has been the tipping point in what has been a tight series and the first to feature two overtime games since the Lakers and Celtics went the distance 25 years ago. Maybe if
But you can't change the past, you can only learn from it and the Lakers learned a lot from last year's Finals disappointment. Bryant and Fisher in particular have learned a lifetime's worth playing in six Finals this decade. It's one of the main reasons why the Lakers have a commanding 3-1 series lead and can win the franchise's 15th NBA championship with one more win. Heading into Sunday's Game 5, here are three things Lakers need to do to beat the Magic and three things Orlando has to do to extend the series.
It may be easier to focus on the negatives in Bryant's game during the Finals. After all, that's usually the case with the most polarizing figure in the league. Yes, he missed 20 shots in Game 4 and didn't hit the game's biggest baskets. Sure he had four turnovers in Game 3 and failed to be the closer with the game tied late. But the fact remains that Bryant is on pace for one of the best Finals ever, at least statistically, and it has just as much to do with his passing than his scoring.
Bryant is averaging 33 points and 8 assists during this year's Finals, something only
"As a passer he's pretty remarkable," said Fisher. "He has an ability to get himself in and out of trouble with his vision that I think improves his ability to dominate offensively. He reads situations very well and he's able to take double-teams and score but he's also reading where double-teams are coming from and who's coming. If he chose to pass more, he would easily average
One of the biggest reasons why the Lakers were in the position they were late in Game 4 (down by five with 32 seconds left) was that Gasol,
The Lakers are at their best when Gasol is active at both ends of the floor and Odom is involved in the offense early. Odom's play sparked the Lakers' four-game winning streak in the playoffs (17.3 points and 11 rebounds) while it was his lack of production in the last two games (10 points and 3.5 rebounds) that nearly had this series tied 2-2.
"I'm trying to be aggressive, but it was too bad in (Game 4) I didn't get to play much because of some tough foul calls but I don't care," said Odom. "I'm just trying to get the ball and go -- attack and get the rebound and take it as far as I can. Sometimes it's not going to show in the statistics but I'm trying to keep myself on the court especially at the end of the game since me and Pau are usually on the floor then. I just got to stay away from stupid fouls and stay on the court so my presence can be felt."
The ominous statistics were flying at the Magic's young players from all sides after Game 4. No team has won a championship down 3-1. No team has ever beaten a
If the Lakers take control of the game early the same way they did against Denver when most assumed the Nuggets would extend the series, the Lakers will suck the life out of Amway Arena and soon out of the Magic players as well. In Denver, the Lakers had a five-point lead after the first quarter and a 13-point advantage at the half and it only grew as the Nuggets realized the Lakers weren't going to let up in a close-out situation as they did against Houston.
"We were in the same situation the Magic were in last year (against the Celtics) and we know how they're going to come out so we know we have to be better early,"
If there's one Magic player that wouldn't mind this series being over sooner rather than later, it might be Alston, who has been toyed with by Van Gundy since
In Game 1, Alston sat out the entire second quarter despite Orlando having the lead in a game that quickly got out of hand. In Game 2, Van Gundy simply ditched the idea of playing point guards altogether late in the game. And in Game 4 Alston didn't see the floor again after the third quarter, going through nine heat packs on the bench as he watched Nelson score only two points and allow Fisher ample room to knock down the biggest shot of the game.
"One turnover" said Alston, still amazed at being pulled after his sole turnover of the game in the third quarter where he accidentally fed the ball to Gasol in the paint. "I'm one of the better guards in this league on assist-to-turnover (ratio) and I got pulled after one turnover. I thought I had five. I'm not even kidding. I thought maybe I was playing bad but I looked at the box score and I had one turnover and that was it. What can I say? He's coaching the team the way he wants."
Alston and Van Gundy haven't had a face-to-face meeting since Game 1 and Alston doesn't plan on having one anytime soon with the coach either.
"I'm not good at those one-on-one meeting because I might blow up," said Alston. "I understand he's coaching but he might say something that doesn't make sense to me and I may not like that, so we'll leave it at that."
As much as some would like to see Howard get more touches, the simple fact is the Lakers have drawn up a blueprint for containing Howard with their big frontline. Howard's limited offensive repetoire and spotty free-throw shooting limit him as a No. 1 option. The fix for the Magic is to get Lewis more involved.
When Orlando got blown out by 25 points in Game 1, Lewis only scored eight points on 10 shots. He was the team's leading scorer in Game 2 and 3, averaging 27.5 points on 17.5 shots. Lewis, however, reverted back to his Game 1 form on Thursday, scoring just six points on 10 shots. Lewis needs to be involved in the offense more and take at least 14 shots with about six of those coming from beyond arc for the Magic's offense to run effectively.
"They didn't defend me differently. It was just that Turk [
The only solace that the Magic can take from Game 4 is that they were in position to beat the Lakers despite shooting 59.5-percent from the free-throw line (22-of-37), missing seven in the fourth quarter alone, and committing 17 turnovers, with seven coming from Howard alone. It's hard enough to beat the Lakers when you are playing your best, but it's almost impossible to do it when you essentially give the game away.
"They're a great team and if we have a lot of turnovers and don't hit our free throws, the Lakers will take advantage of that," said Lee. "The Lakers like to get out and run and get points in the open court on fast breaks and in transition so they capitalize on every turnover. Add to that us missing free throws and it's surprising that we had the lead towards the end. We can't always count on that though. We can't keep giving them those kinds of chances if we're going to win."