Thursday, May 7, 2009

Three random observations ...

... about the NBA:

1. The Magic have proven they can win when Dwight Howard isn't there. But what about when he's there but doesn't perform well? Howard went just 5-for-13 for 12 points Wednesday, and though he had 12 rebounds, it was a far cry from the 22 boards he cleared in Game 1. It was an otherwise eerily similar box score on the Orlando side of the ledger, but a different result, as this time the Magic lost 112-94 to fall into a 1-1 series tie with the Boston. The difference was on the Celtic side, where Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo had much better performances and Eddie House put up an insane 31 points off the bench. House continued the trend of stellar play for Boston reserves with an 11-for-14 shooting performance that included a 4-for-4 mark from three-point territory. Rondo had his third triple-double of the series with 15 points, 18 assists and 11 rebounds, while Allen put up 22 points and six rebounds. The Celtics won going away even without a significant contribution from Paul Pierce, who was limited by foul trouble and scored just three points in 16 minutes. A variety of offensive weapons emerged, including Kendrick Perkins, who held his own against Howard on the block with 16 points and nine rebounds. The Magic got what they needed out of Rashard Lewis, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds, as well as Mickael Pietrus, who came off the bench to score 17 points on 14 free throw attempts. Orlando didn't play anywhere close to the level they needed on the defensive end, allowing 51 percent shooting. The Celtics have dominated this series for about a game and a half, and can take full control as the series shifts to Orlando on Friday for Game 3.

2. Houston's hopes of knocking L.A. off course by making its offense one-dimensional took a hit Wednesday. Kobe, over the flu was draining him a bit in Game 1, scored 40 points on 27 shots, and Pau Gasol abused a foul-plagued Yao Ming for 22 points and 14 rebounds in a 111-98 win for the Lakers that tied the series at 1-1. Yao played just 26 minutes, took just four shots and had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and though backup Carl Landry performed quite admirably on the offensive end and the boards, with 21 points and 10 rebounds, neither he nor Yao could keep Gasol from wreaking havoc. Derek Fisher's 12 points prior to his ejection were enough to put the Lakers over the top. Artest, who was ejected as well, led the Rockets once more with 25 points and five assists, and though five Houston players were in double-figures, it was clear they missed having Yao out there as a dominant force in the post. Landry replaced his scoring but didn't help matters for the Rockets by committing a team-high five turnovers on a night when Houston as a team had 20 giveaways. Yao's 7-for-6 shot-blocking presence would certainly have helped as well, since the normally granite Houston defense allowed the Lakers to shoot 50 percent. His ability to stay on the floor will be a major story as the series progresses.

3. Yao's fouls will have plenty of competition for top billing, however. The Rockets-Lakers series is suddenly rife with more than enough subplots to pique the interest of L.A.'s Hollywood crowd. Will Ron Artest be suspended for his uniquely intense reaction to an arm to the throat by Kobe, one that got him tossed from Game 2? (No.) Could Kobe be suspended himself for the blow to Artest? (No.) Will Derek Fisher be suspended following his ejection for a flagrant foul on Luis Scola, a clear retaliatory move after Scola's words with Lamar Odom? (Yes.) What happens between Scola and the Lakers the rest of the series? (We'll see.) Will Von Wafer return to Rick Adelman's good graces, after the Houston coach sent his own player to the showers prematurely for insubordination? (Again, we'll see.) And who will officiate the series after Joey Crawford exercised such tight control during the fourth quarter that Kobe was hit with a technical for exchanging the kind of in-game chatter with Shane Battier that goes on between every other play from grade school on up? (We'll know after 9 a.m. on the day of each game, when the NBA releases its referee schedule.) This rest of this series, tied at a game apiece, will be interesting for many more reasons than just X-and-O matchups.

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