CELTICS SNAG GAME 2 IN ORLANDO AND NOW BOAST 2-OH SERIES LEAD

THE NBA CONFERENCE FINALS - CELTICS SNAG GAME 2 IN ORLANDO AND NOW BOAST 2-OH SERIES LEAD IN THE EAST WHILE LAKERS LOOK TO GO UP 2-ZIP IN THE WEST ...

NBA DRAFT LOTTERY: THE WIZARDS GET THE TOP PICK BUT IT SURE FEELS FISHY ...

THE MID-WEEK BASEBALL NOTEBOOK INCLUDES A SALUTE TO MARLINS MANAGER GONZALEZ

By Jim Hurley:

It's a tough call as to who in the NBA was more stunned by the results on Tuesday night:
     Was it Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy who must be in utter shock now with his team down two games-to-none in its best-of-seven Eastern Conference against the born-again Boston Celtics?
      Or was it outgoing Washington Wizards owner Irene Pollin - Abe's widow - who found herself in Secaucus (N.J.) standing front-and-center when her late husband's franchise snagged the top overall pick in next month's NBA Draft?
     Talk about the range of emotions on a May night in hoops-land!
     Van Gundy and Company now get three full days to prep for a Game 3 in  Boston this Saturday night that could wind up being a referendum on this Magic bunch: Was the team's back-to-back playoff sweeps against Charlotte and Atlanta this spring really that big a deal if Orlando is gonna go meekly into the night now in these Eastern semifinals - we'll examine a troubling (for the Magic) Game 2 in just a moment plus we'll put a different spin on Washington's lottery winner but first this important message:
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THE NBA PLAYOFFS -
CONFERENCE FINALS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS -
     BOSTON 95, ORLANDO 92 - Celtics lead series 2-0
     It's hard to believe that in the long-and-glorious history of the Boston Celtics, never before did the team win back-to-back road games to start a playoff series.
     Okay, so in many of the years when Boston was busy winning its 17 NBA championships, they did have the benefit of the home-court advantage for Games 1 and 2 but just who thought this could happen after the C's had to go to the whip to beat LeBron James and Cleveland in that last playoff round - and with Orlando having entered this series on a 14-game winning streak of its own?
     Shame on the Magic for - once again - getting out of the gate slowly here in Game 2 and shame on 'em for melting in the late-game heat too:
     Not only did Vince Carter (5-of-15 field-goal shooting and 16 points) badly miss both of his free-throw tries with 31 seconds left that would have cut Boston's lead to a single point but guard J.J. Redick really blew it when he didn't immediately signal for a timeout following a Celtics miss with seven seconds left. Instead, Orlando wound up in-bounding the ball from half-court with three seconds left and guard Jameer Nelson hurled up a running prayer that missed short.
     As far as Carter, well, it was par-for-the-course for one of the NBA's real phony players - an eight-time All-Star who never/ever makes a really big shot or hits those type late-game FTs -- while Redick pulled a bonehead move but at least this is a guy who's given Van Gundy's troops some much-needed energy (see 16 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 34 dogged minutes).
     If only some of Redick's teammates had played Game 2 with some pride and passion:
     Okay, so Dwight Howard (30 points but only 8 boards) raised his performance level after a brutal Game 1 but Rashard Lewis (5 points in 41 minutes) and the aforementioned Nelson (4-of-12 from the field and some bad defense) really were rotten in this must-win game for the Magic.
     Take nothing away from Boston:
     Point guard Rajon Rondo was incredible and the stat-line of 25 points and 8 assists only told part of the story (heck, he could have finished with 15 assists if Boston's big men had just made a few gimme hoops under the rim!) while Paul Pierce bounced back from taking a flagrant foul at the hands of Howard to pour in 22 of his team-high 28 points in the first half.
     The Celtics - again - limited Orlando's effectiveness from beyond the arc (the Magic shot 7-of-18 from trey-land) and more brilliant strategies by Celtics head coach Doc Rivers and defensive assistant Tom Thibedeoux again quashed the Magic fast break as Orlando registered just 11 fast-break points.
     The funny thing about Game 2 is that ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy - Stan's little brother - kept imploring the Magic to pick up the pace/tempo of this one but they never did seem to listen.
     Now, the Magic's got a few days to digest what just happened and what's straight ahead.
      Yes it is all quite stunning, to say the least.

 

Tonight, it's ...
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS -
PHOENIX at LOS ANGELES LAKERS - Lakers lead series 1-0
      Here's the really big question that the Phoenix Suns have to ask themselves while entering Game 2 of the NBA's Western Conference Finals:
      Do they really want to allow Lakers' great Kobe Bryant (40 points in Game 1) to face one-on-one coverage or might it be better strategy to double-team the moment he gets his hands on the basketball and thus make him work that much harder for his points?
     Consider that Suns head coach Alvin Gentry - who must get a load of credit for his post-season calls thus far - addressed this issue right after Bryant and the Lakers had scorched Phoenix 128-107 in Monday's Game 1 tilt. Bryant wound up draining 13-of-23 field-goal tries (and 11-of-12 free throws) and rarely saw a second defender while a batch of Suns including 37-year-old Grant Hill and kid Jared Dudley really came up lame in attempts to slow down the four-time NBA champion.
     Okay, so the "size matters" theme also was prevalent in Game 1 as the taller/longer Lakers out-rebounded the Suns 42-to-34 and note that reserve Lamar Odom really struck it rich with 19 boards as it's become painfully obvious that Phoenix doesn't have anyone that truly matches up with this veteran lefthander who also scored 19 points in a mere 31 minutes of game action.
     Too much was made prior to the start of this series regarding the knee woes of Lakers center Andrew Bynum who registered just 4 points and 4 rebounds in Game 1 - all along we thought the media (and some of the players/coaches) were putting too much stock in his game and acting as if Bynum struggled for his numbers in this best-of-seven series the Lakers would falter.
     Nonsense!
     The Lakers don't have to get stat-sheet stuffing games from Bynum as both Odom and power forward Pau Gasol (21 points and 5 assists) can complement Bryant nicely but the flip side here says the Suns won't even make it a long series if they remain super-soft in the lane - note that the Lakers scored 56 in-the-paint points and far too many of 'em were uncontested shots/lay-ups.
     Throw in the fact that Phoenix simply cannot survive if it can't get its pick-n-roll plays going and give the Lakers credit for defending the Steve Nash-to-Amar'e Stoudemire passes in Game 1 although the former did secure a game-high 13 assists and the latter managed a team-high 23 points.
     Plain and simply, if the Suns are gonna "get even" in Game 2 tonight at Staples Center, than Nash must also hit some spot-up three-point shots - Phoenix canned only 5-of-22 trifectas in this series opener - and he must get at least one other teammate going from beyond the arc. Guard Jason Richardson nailed 3-of-6 treys in Game 1 but reserve Channing Frye killed the Suns with only one made triple in eight tries.
     Let's face it: As long as Bryant has his game in gear - and no doubt missing those recent practices helped get his tattered body in better shape for Game 1 - than this Lakers crew is gonna be ultra-tough to beat but look for Phoenix here to throw more double-teams his way and look for the Suns to get more physical with him in the hopes of throwing off his game.
     Yes, Phil Jackson-coached teams are now an amazing 46-0 SU (straightup) whenever winning Game 1 in a playoff series but remember that these Suns won a pair of playoff games in Portland in Round I and won both of its Round II games at San Antonio - so don't bury 'em just yet!
        

NBA LOTTERY NEWS

     Once upon a time - okay, so it was 1985 - the NBA was bombarded by claims the first-ever Draft Lottery was "fixed" so that Georgetown center Patrick Ewing could wind up a member of the New York Knicks. Sure, there have been other like claims over the past 25 years that not everything with the Lottery is "kosher" but most of that was sour grapes stuff coming from franchises that hoped to be getting the #1 pick and instead wound up dropping a few pegs.
     Now, we must admit to having our cynic's cap on this time:
     Maybe the aforementioned Ms. Pollin is on her way out the door as the sale of the Wizards to Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis is said to be close to completion but this sure felt like a "going away present" to the Pollin family and maybe even a little pick-me-up for the fans of this team that had to endure all the Gilbert Arenas gun junk this year.
      Don't know about you but once the draft order got down to the last seven or eight teams, we just had a real gut feeling that Washington (26-56 in the 2009-10 season) - despite only having a 10.3 percent chance to get the #1 pick - was going to be the team to get the big prize.
     Hope it was all on the "up-and-up" Commissioner Stern.
     Okay, so who figures to be the top half-dozen picks come June 24th? Here's how we see it right now:

     #1. WASHINGTON - John Wall, G, Kentucky: Hey, let's give 'em a 21-gun salute!
     #2. PHILADELPHIA - Evan Turner, G/F, Ohio State: Silky-smooth star better be able to handle tough crowds.
     #3. NEW JERSEY - Derrick Favors, F, Georgia Tech: Nets will be building a real solid team ... don't laugh.
     #4. MINNESOTA - DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kentucky: We know the T-Wolves already have enough point guards to stock an army.
     #5. SACRAMENTO - Wesley Johnson, F, Syracuse: Big East Player of the Year could be 20 ppg scorer when PG Tyreke Evans finds him on fast breaks.
     #6. GOLDEN STATE - Gordon Hayward, F, Butler: Something tells us this whiz-kid will rocket way up the draft board in coming weeks.

 

BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES:
IT'S TIME THE FISH'S RAMIREZ
DOES WHAT FREDI SAYS

     Okay, so you can't actually see us right now but we are applauding the move made this past Monday night by Florida Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez.
     After a short-and-sweet between-innings dugout lecture he administered to star SS Hanley Ramirez, Gonzalez simply told the 2009 National League batting champ to "sit down".
      And than Fredi told 'em to sit again in Tuesday afternoon's 8-0 win against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Good for him!
      The reason for Gonzalez's angst was the fact that Ramirez didn't exactly hustle after a ball he inadvertently kicked into the left-field corner in a 5-1 home loss to the 'Zona Diamondbacks. The ball must have shot nearly 100 feet from Ramirez after he booted it but it was a clear lack of hustle by the shortstop that allowed two runners to score on the Tony Abreu looper with the batter getting all the way to third base.
     Afterwards, Gonzalez admitted that Ramirez did hurt his left shin after fouling off an Edwin Jackson pitch in the first inning but the fourth-year manager was going to give Ramirez any excuses for his lollygagging - "There are 24 guys out there that are busting their butts," said an agitated Gonzalez. "We expect an effort from 25 guys on this team and when that doesn't happen, we have got to do something."
     Never mind the fact that the Marlins had just come off a four-game series home sweep against the New York Mets. Gonzalez wasn't gonna stand for any of his players dogging it.
     The fact of the matter is this 2010 Major-League Baseball season is more than six weeks old and yet we can't count up all the plays we've seen where guys didn't bust it, didn't hustle and didn't look as if they were even trying - to be quite blunt.
      Whether it's a play such as the one Ramirez made (or didn't make, in reality) or a guy not running hard to first base on a ground game that appears to be a base hit (that we've hit countless times so far in '10) or an outfielder not hustling down a ball hit in the gap, the fact is this has become a real epidemic in the sport and hats off to Gonzalez for finally standing up and saying "enough"!
      No need to get into Ramirez's silly comments about his manager never having been a major-league player - all we know is Gonzalez should now have gotten his point across (or else Ramirez and his ilk simply don't get it).

 

     NOTE: Lots more NBA and MLB action in the next edition of Jim Sez

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