Three Observations 1. The Magic have the unique ability shoot their way into a series and shoot their way out of one.Two games removed from the second-worst shooting performance in NBA Finals history (a 29.9 percent stinker in Game 1), the Magic looked like they were playing a video game with a cheat code on Tuesday, knocking down a Finals-record 62.5 percent in Game 3. Rafer Alston (8-of-12), Hedo Turkoglu (7-of-12) and Rashard Lewis (8-of-14) were barely making contact with the twine on their jump shots. On the inside, Dwight Howard made 5-of-6 en route to his 21 points. "I say this all the time, this is a crazy game," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "It really is."The first three games of the Finals have been a microcosm of the Magic's season. Their ability to hit outside shots with frightening consistency in some games makes them as dangerous as any team in the league. But at the same time, Orlando is just as likely to commit a string of turnovers or go cold for prolonged stretches -- as the Magic did in Game 3, allowing the Lakers to hang around and nearly take a 3-0 series lead. "The bad thing is we shot 62.5 percent and almost lost the game," Alston said.
2. This is what the Magic's point-guard rotation should look like.Alston, 37 minutes. Jameer Nelson, 11. Granted, Alston has to play well to warrant extended playing time, but Tuesday's 20-point, four-assist effort was exactly what the Magic needed to stay in this series. Alternating between Rafer Alston, point guard, and Skip To My Lou, street baller, Alston successfully dictated the tempo while giving the Lakers another outside scoring threat with which to contend. "The guard play was great," Van Gundy said. "Rafer got off to a good start and played very, very well, played with great confidence. We still turned the ball over too much [13 overall, including turnovers on back-to-back possessions late in the fourth quarter], but the guard play was clearly much, much better."
3. It might be time to rethink the double-team strategy on Howard.The Lakers have tried to be sneaky with the Magic center. More often than not, L.A. sends the double team along the baseline, keeping the help defender out of Howard's line of sight until the last possible moment. And it has been reasonably effective, as Howard has frequently spun into the trap. But for parts of Game 2 and virtually all of Game 3, Howard made smart decisions with the ball, rotating it to the side of the floor the Lakers had abandoned and not forcing contested shots. Clearly, getting big numbers from Howard is critical for Orlando. But equally important is Howard's role in facilitating the offense in the post, which he did nearly flawlessly in Game 3.
Play Of The Night Clock winding down, Kobe Bryant with the ball and he ... turns it over? Not a scene you see every day, but that's what happened on Tuesday. With the Lakers trailing by two with less than 30 seconds left, Bryant, attempting to split a double team, coughed the ball up. Bryant then fouled Mickael Pietrus, who converted two free throws to all but clinch it for Orlando. "We're all frail as humans," Lakers coach Phil Jackson when asked about Bryant's late-game struggles, which included a key free-throw miss. "Sometimes not as much as others."
Courtside Confidential Van Gundy shared a moment with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden before the game. Gruden wished Van Gundy luck; Van Gundy good-naturedly ribbed Gruden about his new gig on Monday Night Football. "Now you can sit up there and kill people," Van Gundy said. ... How recognizable have NBA referees become? Veteran ref Joey Crawford was roundly booed when he was introduced over the PA system. ... Best/most bizarre question of the night came during the pregame press conference, when Van Gundy was asked if he used his free throw-shooting prowess from his college days at SUNY-Brockport to help Orlando improve at the line. "When I was there, I certainly wasn't beating anybody off the dribble and going into the paint and drawing a lot of fouls," said Van Gundy, who holds the school record of 88.9 percent (152-for-171). "I got screwed on a couple calls, though. It probably should have been at least 175 free throws. I remember two distinctly where I got fouled." ... Jackson on Howard's screen-setting: "We're obviously concerned about his physical contact out there and the amount of picks he's laying on our defenders. ... They did give an offensive foul to him at one point tonight, but we thought there were three or four occasions where there were offensive fouls."... The Magic are now 6-0 in the playoffs (and 7-0 overall this season) when 7-year-old Gina Marie Incandela sings the national anthem.
Looking Ahead Despite the loss, the Lakers have to feel good about their chances going into Game 4 on Thursday. The Magic can't shoot that well again -- they were at 75 percent in the first half -- and L.A. can take some solace in the fact that it was a few free throws by Bryant (an uncharacteristic 5-for-10 from the line) from being in a position to win. The Lakers spoke after the game about their need to close out better on Orlando's shooters, who undoubtedly will be back firing away in Game 4.
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