Friday, May 8, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. The Celtics picked a poor time to deliver a dud on the defensive end. The Magic, behind the kind of performances they've long needed from Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu, shot 59 percent Friday even without the suspended Rafer Alston in a 117-96 win that gives them a 2-1 series lead over Boston. Rashard Lewis had his inside and outside game working, and scored a game-high 28 points while grabbing six rebounds. The cold-shooting Turkoglu awoke, going 8-for-12 from the floor for 24 points. Dwight Howard missed only one of his eight shots as he dominated the paint on both ends of the floor. He had 17 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks, four of which came in the first half, and was a major reason why three Celtic post players wound up with five fouls apiece. The Magic backcourt of Courtney Lee and Anthony Johnson combined for 8-for-11 shooting for 24 points until Johnson gave a shove to Stan Van Gundy during an argument between the third and fourth quarters and didn't return to the game. The Celtics had cut what had been a 20-point lead to nine at that point, but the Magic quickly regained control on a night that was all theirs. Ray Allen struggled through a 3-for-13 night and was 0-for-5 from three-point range, while Rajon Rondo wasn't quite as game-changing as usual, with 15 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals. Paul Pierce returned to form with 27 points and six assists, and Eddie House continued his piping-hot shooting off the bench, nailing six of seven shots and three of four from long range for 15 points. Yet the major story for the Celtics was their foul trouble up front, as Glen Davis, Kendrick Perkins and Brian Scalabrine all nearly fouled out, causing all sorts of trouble for a team that's already thin up front. Howard and Lewis were both able to operate effectively in the post, and the Magic will no doubt look to feed them down low once more in Game 4. The Celtics missed a golden opportunity to beat the Magic without Alston, but still have a chance to gain control of the series Sunday.

2. Jordan Farmar has returned to form for the Lakers, and that's bad news for the Rockets, and everyone else, too. Farmar stepped in for the suspended Derek Fisher and had a solid 12 points, seven assists and five rebounds as the Lakers took a 2-1 series lead Friday with a 108-94 victory. All five Laker starters were in double figures, even though Kobe continued to be the focal point of the L.A. attack, scoring 33 points and going 4-for-6 from behind the arc. Lamar Odom, starting once more, was a force with 16 points and 13 rebounds, making up for the relative struggles of Pau Gasol, who had 13 points and six rebounds going up against Yao. The Rockets controlled the boards with a 56-43 advantage, but committed 17 turnovers to L.A.'s six, while the Lakers shot 11-for-20 from three-point territory. Ron Artest was once more the offensive star for Houston with a team-high 25 points, but for the second consecutive game he was ejected on dubious grounds, this time for a late flagrant-2 foul on Gasol. Yao was the game's leading rebounder with 14 but wasn't as sharp with his shot, going 6-for-14 and 7-for-9 at the line for 19 points. The Rockets, like the Celtics on Friday, missed a chance to beat their opponents without their starting point guards. The difference is Houston is playing a top-seeded team that has home court, and now the Rockets will have to win a second game at L.A. in this series to pull off the upset.

3. The pins on the lapels of all the coaches in the playoffs will have extra meaning now. Hall of Fame coach Chuck Daly, 78, died early Saturday morning after a battle with pancreatic cancer. The leader of the Dream Team and back-to-back champions with the Detroit Pistons was named one of the Top 10 Coaches in the league's history when the NBA celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1997. He went 638-437 in stops at Cleveland, Detroit, New Jersey and Orlando, but will be most remembered for his work resurrecting the moribund Pistons franchise, elevating the franchise into its current status as one of the league's mainstays. Daly had just one losing season as a head coach, when he went 9-32 with the Cavs, who were in shambles under owner Ted Stepien. He was hired a year later by the Pistons, owned by the late Bill Davidson, and went on to become the franchise's all-time winningest head coach in the regular season and playoffs. It's been a rough season in Detroit, with the loss of Davidson and now Daly coupled with the decline of the team after six straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals. The legacy that Davidson and Daly left will not fade so easily.

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