Mar 7, 2010, 3:10 AM EDT
Revenge is a dish best served in a loud arena in front of 18,000 angry, screaming fans.
At least that’s the plan in Orlando Sunday. The fans there want a piece of the Lakers. The team that beat them in the Finals last June. And the Magic that take the court Sunday with a roster they wish they had last June.
It is a Magic fan’s lament — if we just had Jameer Nelson last year…
Twice during the last regular season, Nelson torched the Lakers and led the Magic to win. He was the best player on the floor both games. But in the Finals, Nelson was rushed back off an injury and was a mere shadow of himself. And the Lakers rolled the Magic in five.
This time Orlando has a healthy Nelson — one that in the last 10 games has averaged 16 points and 7 assists per game. He is slashing and getting into the paint, something the Lakers have struggled to stop this season. He is both finishing at the rim and stepping out and hitting threes — 37% in his last 10 games. He is playing like an All-Star again.
This time the Lakers get the full force of Orlando — one that has an improved Dwight Howard, Vince Carter finally fitting in and letting the game come to him, and energy out of Matt Barnes.
These are not the Magic the Lakers beat last year.
These are not the Lakers that beat the Magic last year, either. And we’re not just talking about Ron Artest’s hair.
And they are not playing well. (Well for them, they are 6-4 in their last 10, which the Nets would even consider staying at the IZOD Center for.) They have lost two in a row, and their last three on the road.
Lakers fans have largely thrown the blame at Pau Gasol. We as a species like simple answers, but we live in a world of complex problems. So it is with the Lakers offensive slump. And that offense being out of balance has hurt their defense (turnovers and slow rotations because guys don’t get back in good position.).
It starts because the Laker guards are doing a poor job of getting the ball into the post to start the triangle offense. Fisher is decent but has lost a step, Jordan Farmar overdribbles then tries to force the pass in, Shannon Brown barely even runs the offense. When the ball does go in to Gasol or Bynum, teams are throwing delayed double teams at them and those two — both good passers — have been slow to recognize the double and bad at making the pass out to their release point cleanly. Then, even if all that happens, the Lakers outside shooting is off. Teams can sag off the Lakers, crowd the bigs in the paint and block Kobe Bryant’s penetration, because they don’t pay a consistent price from the outside jumper.
The Lakers players on Saturday met but didn’t talk about that. They talked about how to better defend the pick-and-roll — which they should see a lot of Sunday. Kobe talked about the need for determination.
The Lakers have shown flashes of that determination, of the good offense and a very good defense this season. They did it for about 18 minutes last Sunday and that was good enough to beat Denver.
But 18 minutes will not cut it against the Magic. Orlando is playing better, has a weapon with Nelson that attacks right at a Laker weakness (defending point guards) and has the defense to shut down the Lakers offense.
The Magic are good enough to get their fans the revenge they want. But until they beat the Lakers in a convincing fashion, it’s hard to bet against the Lakers and Kobe when they are challenged.
And that dish of revenge might not taste as good as everyone thought.
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