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Preview: Cavs, Magic looking to gain edge in Game 3

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted May 24 2009 11:50AM

ORLANDO -- In the wake of "The Shot," the Eastern Conference finals move to Orlando for Sunday's Game 3 (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT), where we might learn which is the better team in this series.

The Cavs and Magic have each won a game. They've each scored 202 points. And they've each hit a game-winning 3-pointer on a play that was designed to go for the tie.

In both games, the Cavs have come out strong on both ends of the floor, dominating the first 16 minutes. And in both games, they blew a big lead.

Cavs Lead Magic Lead Score Tied
Game 1 43:44 0:20 3:56
Game 2 39:02 7:55 1:03
TOTAL 82:46 8:15 4:59

In coming back from two large deficits, the Magic have seemingly been the tougher, more resilient team, but have they been the better team? They've led for a total of just eight minutes and 15 seconds in this series, while the Cavs have held the lead for more than 10 times as long.

With all the talk of how the Magic provide matchup problems for the Cavs, the series is still tied. And if a bounce or two goes the Cavs' way in Game 1, they would have a 2-0 lead.

But now, they head to Amway Arena, where they've lost five of the last six times. The Magic beat them comfortably in Orlando twice this season. Now, Mike Brown and his team must find a way to get a win in that building, or there season will end in this round.

The Cavs can take solace in that LeBron James' supporting cast has not been at its best in this series. The Orlando defense certainly deserves some credit for that, but Mo Williams, Delonte West, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Wally Szczerbiak will likely improve on their combined 36 percent (31-for-86) shooting as the series goes on.

Perhaps the three big buckets that Williams got in the final six minutes on Friday will be spark him offensively in the next couple of games. Before he finished Game 2 by making three of his last four shots, he had been shooting 10-for-36 in the series, far from what the Cavs need from their second All-Star.

Brown takes responsibility for the Cavs' second-half struggles, admitting to being outcoached by Stan Van Gundy.

"They came out and made some adjustments in the second half," he said Friday. "You've got to give Stan credit. You've got to give their team credit, because they're very resilient. We (the Cavs' coaching staff) have to do a better job of helping our team.

"I have to do a better job of making sure for 48 minutes -- just like I keep telling our players -- that no matter what scenario we're coming across on the floor, I make the right adjustments and I put them in the best position to defend whatever action they see."

Brown's team did make adjustments from Game 1 to Game 2, to take something away from the Magic. By double-teaming Dwight Howard, they limited him to just eight shots and 10 points. And by doing a better job in transition, they cut Orlando's fast break points from 17 down to six.

The Magic, especially in the fourth quarter, kept James away from the basket, forced him into turnovers, and forced his teammates to beat them. Before James' game-winner, the Cavs were held to just 37 points in the second half of Game 2.

Of course, the Magic also know they can play better than they have in the first two games. They've come out flat each night, putting themselves in two big holes. They trailed by 16 late in the first quarter of Game 1 and by 23 midway through the second quarter of Game 2.

"If we want to win this series," Dwight Howard said after Game 2, "we've got to come out better. We've got to be more mentally tough from the beginning of the game to the end of the game."

"We've got to hit them first and match their intensity," Rashard Lewis added. "We feel like they have more energy than us in the first half."

The Magic have also gotten very little from Rafer Alston (5-for-17 in the series) and, other than a pick-and-roll flurry in the fourth quarter on Friday, Courtney Lee (6-for-16).

Even Hedo Turkoglu, who had two huge buckets down the stretch of each game and has five more assists than anyone in the series, has missed several open looks at the basket.

If those shots go in at Amway Arena, and the Magic's supporting cast plays better at home, the Cavs could be in trouble. But Cleveland wasn't the best and most consistent team in the league over the first 90 games for nothing.

"One thing about us," James said, "we are not going to carry Game 2 to Game 3. It's over and done with. It's a great game. We are a next-game team. We have to figure out a way to play better basketball in the second half."

These are two great teams, led by two great coaches. The Cavs have the MVP, and in Turkoglu and Lewis, the Magic have a pair of forwards that have proven to be tough to stop.

Both teams relied on their defense throughout the season, but in general, it's been an offensive series.

"It's an emotional roller coaster," Wally Szczerbiak said after Game 2, "and you never know what's going to happen next. So just tune in."

NBA.com's John Schuhmann will be covering the Eastern Conference finals and the NBA Finals. If you have a question or comment for him, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on twitter.

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