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Deep Threat
CHRIS MANNIX
May 25, 2009
The Magic's outside touch gives them a shot at spoiling Cleveland's party
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May 25, 2009

Deep Threat

The Magic's outside touch gives them a shot at spoiling Cleveland's party

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ABOUT 90 MINUTES before Game 7 in Boston on Sunday, when he might have been reviewing scouting reports or watching video, Magic center Dwight Howard trolled the locker room for people to chest-bump. First it was forward Hedo Turkoglu. Then point guard Rafer Alston got one. The block-chested Howard thumped Anthony Johnson so hard that the backup guard nearly toppled onto a training table. "That's just how we do things around here," Johnson explained. The Magic way seems to work: A few hours later the players were back in the locker room celebrating a 101--82 slaying of the Celtics that put the team in its first conference finals since 1996.

If the Magic's pregame preparation is unconventional, so is the way it plays. Instead of complementing the 6'11" Howard with slashers and another low-post scorer, Orlando has surrounded him with outside shooters, including frontcourtmates Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. With Howard opening up the floor by drawing double teams in the post and off the pick-and-roll, the Magic finished second in the league in three-pointers taken (26.2 per game) and in makes (10.0). In the Boston series, the Magic connected on 56 of 162 long-range attempts (34.6%). "When those shooters get going," says Celtics coach Doc Rivers, "[Orlando] is nearly impossible to guard."

They got going against Cleveland in the regular season; the Magic won two of three games, including a 29-point blowout in Orlando on April 3. In those victories the Magic got the Cavaliers' defense scrambling with pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll, attempted 58 threes and hit 24 (41.4%). That strategy is sure to continue in the Eastern Conference finals. "We need a lot of movement," says Johnson. "You can't go one-on-one with them because they are too good defensively."

Orlando also hopes to apply the lessons it learned in overcoming a 3--2 series deficit against the reigning champs. In Games 4 and 5 the Magic looked overwhelmed when no reliable scorer stepped forward in the fourth quarter. But Lewis had eight points in the final period of Game 6, and Turkoglu emerged on Sunday, scoring 10 of his 25 in the fourth quarter. "We have matured a lot in a short period of time," says Lewis. Howard agrees. As he walked off the podium after his postgame press conference on Sunday, he paused, looked down and said quietly to himself, "I feel like I grew up tonight."

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