Longshots come in
Happily, they start the NBA Finals tonight in the nick of time, before anyone drops dead from analysis and coverages of breaking stories . . .
Like the Jameer Nelson Comeback Story, with Orlando’s gutsy tyke, who was supposed to be out until next fall, trying to make it back this spring.
This is huge, not only because he’s a comer who was selected as an All-Star, but, as everyone notes, he averaged 27 against the Lakers.
Or maybe it’s just medium-sized. Jameer looks likely to play, but after being out four months, his chances of having an impact are on the order of the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
Collectively, the Magic isn’t given much more of a shot, for a long list of reasons:
They don’t have LeBron James.
They’re not from Boston.
Coach Stan Van Gundy’s self-effacing sense of humor can go as far as saying he blew it by letting Boston’s Glen Davis beat them with a last-second shot.
Actually, any coach would have been happy to see Big Baby take that shot, but how many talk show hosts do you think figured that out?
Then there’s the Magic’s superstar, Dwight Howard, whom Kobe Bryant described as “a goofball” Wednesday, adding he’s also a great competitor.
The world hasn’t yet fully embraced Dwight, the Competitor. Sports Illustrated just put him on its cover with the words: “Too much fun: Can the Magic’s dunk machine get serious for a moment?”
For this, he did a two-hour photo shoot?
“We were overlooked in the Philadelphia series [in which the 76ers led, 2-1],” Howard said Wednesday. “We were overlooked in the Boston series. We were overlooked in the Cavaliers series.”
And, yes, they’re overlooked here, or at least regarded as underdogs.
Despite Wednesday’s show of respect by the Lakers -- a far cry from last spring’s light-hearted arrival in Boston -- you kept hearing one thing:
Orlando sure shoots a lot of threes.
What they meant was:
Let’s see how many they can make, and how long they can make them, if we can contain Howard.
Of course, as the Cavaliers, Celtics and 76ers could tell them: Tying up Howard and waiting for them to miss is harder than it looks.
To the Magic, apple carts are just there to be upset. If nobody else has them as a major power, by now the major powers should.
During the last two seasons, counting playoffs, here’s how the NBA’s top four teams did against each other:
Top teams make opponents play their game. However, with the Magic’s inside-out game, nobody gets them out of their game.
With all Cleveland’s momentum, its 43-2 record at home counting playoffs, and Orlando coming off a seven-game series after trailing the Celtics, 3-2, the Cavaliers were lost almost from the opening tip against the Magic.
Actually, they were OK until halftime of Game 1, when Mo Williams’ half-court shot put them up, 63-48, and their bench players, who had been carrying on all spring, almost had heart attacks and died.
After that the Magic came back and won the game.
The Magic then came from 23 points behind in Game 2, which James stole back with a last-second three-pointer, and from 24 behind in Game 5, before more heroics from James, who was out on his feet after that.
So, no, the Magic isn’t easily discouraged.
Aside from a deep roster of shooters -- nine players made 50 threes, with four over 39% and three more over 35% -- they’re Pure Gunslinger.
Anywhere else, their shot selection would go under the heading of “heat checks.”
In Orlando, they call it “in rhythm.”
“You never know how this series is going to go,” Van Gundy said, “but we’re sitting here now with the way we play. . . .
“We’re trying to take what the defense gives us. If they’re going to double-team Dwight, if they’re going to put people in the lane, if they’re going to trap pick-and-rolls, we’re going to look inside. And if you’re going to stay in the lane, we’re going to shoot the three.”
If you’re good enough, you do it your way, like, say, the Shaq-Kobe teams.
With Shaquille O’Neal rounding into shape slowly, and/or feuding with Kobe, it wasn’t your ordinary Lakers dynasty.
When they got serious, there was Shaq, who had to be double-teamed fast, or he would knock defenders flat and step over them -- which left three players to guard four Lakers, one of whom was Bryant.
The Lakers’ current inside-outside game is formidable, or has been since they relocated it in Games 5 and 6 of the last series.
Then there’s their focused attitude, which they also relocated, or finally got to.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson was subdued Wednesday. Bryant was Gary Cooper in “High Noon.”
Q: You’ve talked a couple times this season about turning 30. How much does your age right now kind of add to the urgency to win a title?
KB: I’m not worried about it. The urgency is there just because it’s there.
Q. It’s a young 30, is that what you’re saying?
KB: Yeah, I’m not worried about it.
The Lakers’ apple cart has been upset so many times this spring, they’re not sure which side is up.
Nevertheless, as Van Gundy said of his team, the Lakers are still here too.