... about the NBA:
1. Hedo Turkoglu is known as a late-game player. He also appears to be a late-season player. Turkoglu shook off the struggles that had plagued him for months to show signs of life early in the series against the Celtics, and came back after a 3-for-13 clunker in Game 6 to deliver his finest performance since February on Sunday when the Magic really needed him in Game 7. He hit on nine of 12 shots, including a 4-for-5 performance from three-point range, to score 25 points to go along with a playoff career high 12 assists as the Magic won Game 7 in Boston to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Turkoglu had it going throughout the game, with 10 points in the first half and a three-point dagger with 3:55 to go that answered a Ray Allen trey and put the Magic up by 15. Allen was Boston's leading scorer with 23 points on 9-for-18 shooting, but everyone around him was flat. Paul Pierce had 16 points but went 4-for-13 from the field, Glen Davis only got seven shots off for 13 points, and Rajon Rondo went 4-for-10 for 10 points. Orlando outscored the Celtics 25-12 off the bench, as Mickael Pietrus sizzled in his 24 minutes of play, shooting 6-for-7 and making all three of his shots behind the arc for 17 points. Rashard Lewis went just 5-for-14, but went to the line 10 times and wound up with 19 points. Rafer Alston had 15 points, and Dwight Howard was just the fifth leading scorer on the team, struggling with foul trouble and taking just nine shots for 12 points. Howard couldn't complain about the lack of shots this time, though, given all the other hot hands on the team, and he still made his presence felt on the boards, where he had a game-high 16 rebounds, and on defense, with five blocks. The Magic became a much better defensive team after being eliminated in the second round last year, and it was the defense, which held Boston to 32 percent shooting and 4-for-16 from three-point territory, that lifted Orlando past the conference semifinals this year. The Celtics, who played so valiantly without Kevin Garnett, can simply hope Garnett, Pierce and Allen can avoid breaking down next year, and that their young players continue to improve so they can return to championship contention in 2010.
2. The Lakers, who have squeezed in as many naps as possible in these playoffs, finally kept their hands off the snooze bar Sunday. The post players for L.A., and in particular the long-slumbering Andrew Bynum, finally took control as they should have much earlier against the depleted Houston interior in an 89-70 Game 7 victory that did away with the pesky Rockets. Bynum hit on six of seven field goal attempts and scored 14 points, while Pau Gasol had game highs in points, with 21, and rebounds, with 18. The Lakers held a 55-33 advantage on the boards, as shooting guard Ron Artest led Houston with eight rebounds. The attention to defense was the key for the normally offensive-minded Lakers. The Rockets shot just 37 percent, and though Aaron Brooks, who has averaged 24.7 points in his last three games, was again the leading scorer, the Lakers held him to 4-for-13 from the floor and 13 points. Luis Scola, another difference maker from Game 6, endured a 4-for-12 shooting performance for just 11 points. The reserve backcourt of Von Wafer and Kyle Lowry combined for 18 points, but with Carl Landry going 2-for-10, the bench couldn't keep Houston in the game. Kobe Bryant, who has mostly looked to score during the playoffs, played a facilitator's role Sunday, taking just 12 shots for 14 points while dishing out a team-high five assists and grabbing seven rebounds. Kobe's conscious deferrment to his teammates may be what the Lakers need to get going as the competition gets tougher against the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets, as hard as they fought without Yao Ming, Dikembe Mutombo and Tracy McGrady, had no business taking L.A. to a seventh game. Many questons face the Houston franchise this offseason, but the answer the Lakers must deliver is whether they can learn from the fevered intensity the Rockets have shown.
3. I reviewed my predictions after the first round, so let's see how I fared in the conference semis. I had the Lakers in seven, believing the Lakers would struggle as they did against the Rockets, though I surely wouldn't have made the same call if I knew Yao would miss more than half the series. The Nuggets won in five and I had them winning in six, but I could have been dead on if not for the non-call on Antoine Wright that led to Carmelo Anthony's three-pointer at the end of Game 3. I called for the Celtics to prevail in seven, which looked like a winner until Hedo Turkoglu materialized when I least expected him to and the Magic regrouped to steal Game 7 on the road. I underestimated the Cavs, daring to think they could lose a game against Atlanta by picking them to win in five when they instead made it consecutive sweeps to start the playoffs. So I nailed only one of the series after picking four of eight on the nose in the first round, but picked three of four winners this time while coming within a game of perfection in each of the three series I missed. I'll take it, and move on to the conference finals, with previews and predictions Tuesday before Game 1 between the Nuggets and Lakers.