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April 23, 2009
Playoff Prospectus
The MVP

by Kevin Pelton

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Orlando 96, Philadelphia 87 (Series tied 1-1)
Pace: 87.9
Offensive Ratings: Orlando 108.5, Philadelphia 99.7

The outcome--the Orlando Magic tying its series with the Philadelphia 76ers at one apiece after being upset in Game One--was what we expected. The path was not. The box score looks very little like what we've come to expect from the Magic this season. Absent were the threes on which Orlando has relied all season, as the Magic actually won this game despite being outshot from the field. The NBA's No. 28 team in offensive rebounding came up with 14 second chances, including a couple of crucial ones in the final two-and-a-half minutes.

Even at the individual level, Orlando's production came from unlikely sources. With Dwight Howard in foul trouble, culminating in his sixth personal with 3:11 to play, Marcin Gortat stepped up to be a factor on the glass. It was Gortat who, moments after Howard left for good, chased down a Hedo Turkoglu miss. That set up backup point guard Anthony Johnson, who played the entire final quarter, for a runner to put the Magic up seven with 2:21 to play. Philadelphia would get no closer than six the rest of the way. Even before the stretch run, with Howard a non-factor on offense and Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis combining to shoot 7-of-24 from the field, rookie Courtney Lee stepped up to score 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting--the highest-scoring outing of his entire rookie season.

While Orlando still has yet to find the range from downtown in this series, the 76ers were unable to maintain their Game One three-point barrage. Philadelphia was 5-of-16 this time around, accounting for pretty much the entire difference between the team's offensive efficiency in the two games. It was a three-man offense for the Sixers, who got 30 points from Andre Miller, 21 from Andre Iguodala and a surprising 20 from Thaddeus Young. The rest of the team? 16 points in 113 minutes. Ouch.

Miami 108, Atlanta 93
Pace: 84.5
Offensive Ratings: Miami 128.0, Atlanta 109.8

This is the first time I've used this line this year, but it surely won't be the last: In the playoffs, momentum is your next game. Like Portland a night earlier, the Miami Heat looked like an entirely different team in Game Two from the crew that managed just 64 points in Game One. They'd surpassed that point total four minutes into the second half of this affair, having already opened up a double-digit lead.

In this case, three-pointers were the magic potion that turned the Heat into an efficient offense. Having gone 4-of-23 from beyond the arc in the first game, Miami hit an incredible 15 last night in 26 tries. Dwyane Wade tied his career high with six triples, the last of them an off-balance banker to beat the shot clock and put the game to bed. Daequan Cook's shooting also gave the Heat a huge lift off the bench. Having missed all five of his three-point attempts in Game 1, Cook was 6-for-9 in Game Two, making the Hawks pay for helping off him.

Miami also got stronger production from its frontcourt duo of Udonis Haslem and Jermaine O'Neal. Haslem came up with a couple of big mid-range jumpers in the fourth quarter to help hold the Hawks at bay, while O'Neal had 19 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots.

Atlanta's offense was actually slightly more efficient than it was in Game One, and the Hawks outpaced Miami in three of the Four Factors. These things tend to get overlooked when one team hits 15 three-pointers. The Hawks may have some adjustments to make in defending Wade, who despite five turnovers was more effective even discounting his hot shooting. They'll also want to keep a much closer eye on Cook, by far the shooter most likely to hurt them from the perimeter. For the most part, despite the size of the final margin, this is a "stay the course" game for Atlanta. Expect the Heat's Offensive Rating to settle in somewhere between the extremes of the first two games, and that would make for an entertaining finish if the Hawks continue scoring at the same rate.

Denver 108, New Orleans 93
Pace: 85.5
Offensive Ratings: Denver 126.1, New Orleans 109.1

With each series through two games, no one in the league has put together 96 minutes of more complete basketball than the Denver Nuggets have. Even Cleveland's reserves stumbled for a few minutes against Detroit. No such letdowns for Denver, which again had this game well in hand the whole night and put the New Orleans Hornets away with an 18-5 surge to start the fourth quarter.

If they gave a playoff MVP after two games--and I'm not sure why they would--my vote would probably go to Chauncey Billups. This time, Billups relied on the free-throw line (11-11) to go along with four three-pointers as part of a 31-point effort. Billups has played 69 minutes in this series, and he has yet to commit a turnover. Following his lead, Denver had but six miscues all night. That was the biggest difference between the teams, what with New Orleans turning it over 17 times, including five by Chris Paul.

Bench production has loomed large for the Nuggets in the first two games. The two reserve units played even during an ugly stretch of basketball to start the second quarter, but after Billups returned Denver went on an 11-2 run to open up a double-figure lead. The spurt in the fourth quarter also featured reserves Chris Andersen, Anthony Carter and J.R. Smith. Andersen and Smith in particular blend well with the starters, and it's fitting that they both played prominent roles for the Hornets before landing with the Nuggets. Denver was +18 with Andersen on the floor last night, and the team feeds off his energy for stretches. Smith picked up part of the scoring load with 15 points.

New Orleans wasted a strong shooting outing from Peja Stojakovic, who knocked down four triples and scored 17 points. David West was much more of a mixed bag. More aggressive at times in attacking the basket against the physical Denver frontline, West started the game well and was certainly much more effective than in Game One. Yet the final line--21 points on 22 shooting possessions--was underwhelming. With Paul playing passer (13 assists) more than shooter (14 points), there wasn't enough offense to keep up with the Nuggets.

Also worth noting: Denver got Carmelo Anthony going after a quiet Game 1. Anthony scored 22 points and was a playmaker in his own right, handing out nine assists.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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