I really shouldn't be surprised that tons of people are jumping off the Orlando Magic bandwagon. It's 2010, and we're in the Age of Twitter. People are prone to overreacting these days. Just ask LeBron James.
But it is still a bit annoying to see the same old criticisms of the Magic come back to the forefront. "They're too soft." "Dwight Howard has no post game." "A team that relies on threes that much can't win in the playoffs." And, my least favorite of them all, "Anytime Vince Carter is the only guy that shows up, you're in trouble."
Look, losing Game 1 is obviously a bit problematic, especially because 80 percent of the teams that lose Game 1 at home in the conference finals lose the series. And yes, it's possible that the Celtics have stumbled upon the formula to beat the Magic - guard Howard one-on-one, let his supposedly undeveloped post game be his own kryptonite (pun intended) and stay out on the shooters. The Celtics deserve a ton of credit for Game 1, and they have a great shot at winning this series, just like they did when it started.
But this kind of performance by the Magic was completely predictable. Like I wrote a week ago:
In contrast, the Orlando Magic are dominating, but unless the Hawks make an improbable comeback, the Magic will enter the next round without having to face a situation that really tests their character. They faced that adversity much earlier in the season, when they were figuring out how to mold all their new pieces, but that was a long time ago. In the last two months, they haven't had one real gut-check moment.
The "in contrast" was referring to the Cavaliers (oops), but it also applies to the Celtics. Throw in the rust factor - the Magic have played just eight games in the last 31 days - and the Magic were due for a letdown. The Celtics had the right rhythm - Orlando didn't. That'll be there for one game. It probably won't be there the rest of the series. The truth is, as good as Boston played defensively, the Magic missed a lot of shots they usually make. I'd say more on this, but NBA Playbook broke it all down here. Just go read that.
The point is, this should be a long series. Orlando doesn't need to make any major coaching, lineup or schematic adjustments - they just need to play better. And they will, now that they got that rust game out of the way.
Onto tonight, which features Game 1 of the Lakers-Suns series. In this case, both teams are rusty because they swept the previous round. That's been good for Phoenix, because they now have Robin Lopez back. That hasn't been good for the Lakers, because it's given more time for Andrew Bynum's knee to get worse. Regardless, it's going to be a fun series. Let's break it down!
Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers: Game 1, 9:00 p.m., TNT
Regular season: The Lakers won the series 3-1, though there are some caveats. Two of their wins came when the Suns were on the second night of a back-to-back and the Lakers were not, and Phoenix's win came in a game Ron Artest didn't play. So it's tough to take as much from these games as you normally would.
Why Phoenix will win: Steve Nash will run wild, some combination of Grant Hill, Jared Dudley and Jason Richardson will be enough to slow Kobe Bryant, and the Suns' bench will destroy the Lakers' crappy bench.
Why the Lakers will win: Pau Gasol will dominate his matchup with Amare Stoudemire (I think he will, personally, but this is open to debate), the Suns' perimeter defenders won't slow Kobe, Artest will shut down Richardson's three-point shooting and the Lakers' bigs will help enough on Nash to cut off his penetration.
What will provide comedic relief: Oh, I think the random Nash-Jose Mourinho feud over, well, nothing can suffice for now.
Prediction for tonight: I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, I think the Lakers are better, and the better team wins Game 1 when all's equal (i.e. not in the Celtics-Magic series). On the other hand, Phoenix has done best when nobody expects them to win, and based on Phil Jackson's 46-0 record in series where his team wins Game 1, the Suns have to win tonight if they want to win the series. As of right now, perspective #1 is winning out, but I could easily see the Suns winning this game too. Oh, screw it. Lakers 112, Suns 107.
Prediction for the series: Lakers in six really, really tough games. The Suns will give LA a big-time challenge - they have too many advantages they can exploit. But realistically, the Lakers have Kobe, and they have Pau, who should feast on Phoenix's bigs. That, I think, will ultimately be enough in what should be a great series.