Florida represented during last night’s playoff games with Orlando and Miami both evening their series up 1-1. Miami slowed the A.T.L. pace down, while Orlando’s future took over against the Philadelphia 76ers. Denver hosted the New Orleans Hornets for game two in an attempt to go up 2 zip before heading to New Orleans for game 3.
First let’s revisit the Orlando series where Orlando struggled down the stretch against the 76ers last night giving up an 18 point lead while Dwight Howard was forced to watch from the bench after fouling out. Though the defense was a big question mark with out Howard, the offense was just fine thanks to the play of rookie guard Courtney Lee who scored a career high 24 points.
Orlando remained stuck in their ways of live by the three die by the three, and on Wednesday night they almost found themselves down 0-2 after shooting 26 percent from the three-point line. Orlando wised up only taking 3 attempts from beyond the arch in the 4th quarter and decided to try and get their points in the paint and they were able to hold Philly off, and get the win with a final score of 96-87.
Orlando did a good job of spreading the love with Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu contributing 11 points each. Rafer Alston, Anthony Johnson, and Howard each had 11 points. Howard also had 10 rebounds giving him his usual double double before fouling out.
The 76ers cut the lead down to 5 points thanks to Andre Miller’s 30 points, Iguodala’s 21, and 20 more from Thaddeus Young. Iguodala got off to a slow start after attempting only 3 shots and scoring only 1 point in the entire first half. The second half Philly’s new A.I. was almost unstoppable. Game three takes place in Philly on Friday.
The other big game last night took place in Atlanta, where the Miami Heat needed all 33 points from Dwayne Wade in order to hold off the more athletic Atlanta Hawks. But it may have been more of the talk Wade had with former Miami Heat big man Alonzo Mourning that got the Heat even with the Hawks in this series.
Wade said that Alonzo flew in to Atlanta and told them that defensive showing they put on display in game 1 was terrible and he needed to step up. And when the team see’s him step up they would follow suit, and they did. Miami slowed the pace down stopping Atlanta from their usual run and gun style forcing them to play half court basketball, which is not a strength of the boys from the “A”.
Atlanta was still able to spread the ball around with 6 players in double figures, led by Mike Bibby who hit 4 of 8 from the 3-point line, finishing the game with 18 points. Josh Smith whom we can all agree is going to be an even bigger beast as his game matures had 17 points and 10 rebounds, giving him another double double along with Al Horford who went for 11 and 11 on his own.
The most intriguing battle however was Joe Johnson battling D. Wade. Though Johnson only had 16 points versus the 33 that Wade put up, it was a battle. The major difference between these two, when it comes to the scoring battle, is that Johnson has enough help to where he doesn’t need to score as many points as Wade, and it shows in the stat box.
That battle came to an end with under 3 minutes left in the fourth quarter when Wade checked back into the game with five fouls. Johnson played great man-to-man defense, forcing Wade to throw up desperation 3 pointer, just before the shot clock expired. Unfortunately Wade hit a bank shot and sealed the Heat’s victory and tied the series up at one a piece, with game three going back to Miami on Saturday.
And finally the Denver Nuggets looked like they were in for a battle early in the game with the Hornets leading 31-30 at one point, and then all of sudden the Nuggets went on a 15-2 run led by the “Birdman” Chris Anderson. But that wasn’t the Hornets’ only problem. They had mismatches all over the place on defense as well.
Chris Paul wasn’t guarding Chauncey Billups who went for 31-points and 0 turnovers for the second consecutive game. Instead, the Hornets had one of their bigger defenders on him, out of fear of him over powering Paul in the post. The problem with that move though was that none of those defenders are use to playing defense out on the perimeter. That move left the Hornets defenseless against Billups when he decided to hang out around the 3-point line shooting 4 for 6 beyond the arch.
True, Paul may have been defenseless when Billups decided he wanted to post him up, but at least CP3 would have been a better defender against the 3-point attack from Billups. Another mismatch was Peja Stojakovic guarding Carmelo Anthony who poured in 22 points. Peja may be a 3-point assassin but his defense is suspect, and it showed in last night loss.
The biggest issue Coach Byron Scott is going to have to address is how to get David West into a groove. Last year he was guarded by Dirk Nowitzki in the playoffs, a guy he knew he could score on at will, but this year he’s up against a smaller, faster, and more athletic Kenyon Martin. West was still able to score 21 points but it was off a 9-20 shooting performance, as the Nuggets went on to win 108-93. Game 3 will be played in New Orleans Saturday afternoon.