NBA Eastern Conference Finals Critical Game Six

The Cleveland Cavaliers, down three games to one, survived one more day by beating the Orlando Magic 112- 102 in game five.  That’s old news by now. The news on the Eastern Conference front will be made Saturday when these two teams meet again.

The Magic have seen some fine play from small forward Hedo Turkoglu. In each series his output has gone up a bit. Versus the 76ers, he averaged 11.8 points per game and against Boston, he put in 16.3 points per game. Now versus the Cavs, he’s been scoring an average of 18.6 points a contest. His rebounding is up and he’s hitting threes at a rate of 41%.

On the other side of the court, LeBron James continues to be massive. James is averaging 41.2 points per game, eight to nine more than he put up per game versus Detroit and Atlanta. His court shooting and three-point shot rates are both down some. His defense continues to be first-rate. Still, James cannot do it all.

From the outside, both point guard Mo Williams and shooting guard Delonte West have struggled on the offensive end of the court. Although Williams point totals per game are up, his shooting percentages are down by almost 10%. West has seen both his average points per game go down (from 15.0 PPG versus Atlanta to 13.0 against Orlando). From the floor, he’s sinking 44% as opposed to 50% in the Atlanta series, and from the three-point arc, he’s been good just 26% of the time. Versus Atlanta he knocked in 43% of his threes.

In the last games against Orlando, James had a triple double, putting up 37 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and making 12 assists. That’s a great performance but as the Cavs have discovered in the last few post-seasons, one-man teams simply do not make for championship teams. The playoffs are too long and grueling for one guy to do it all. One player can do a lot and James is a phenomenal NBA star, but the backcourt and others really need to step up and contribute.

For the Magic, Dwight Howard has played well, getting his point totals back into the mid-twenties after seeing them drop to 16.4 points per game in the Boston series. He’s converting 66% of his shots from the field in this latest series, which is up from 55% in the Celtics’ showdown.

Howard had his sixth technical foul in this year’s playoffs called against him in game four versus the Cavaliers. He got some good news—that technical has been rescinded. It’s important because once a player gets seven Ts in the playoffs, he has to sit out a game. That’s a break for the Magic.

Power forward Rashard Lewis has certainly brought his game, hitting 50% of his threes and 50% of his shots from the floor. At the point, Rafer Alston has also taken it up a notch, putting in 37% of his downtown tries and knocking in 39% of his shots from the field. Finally, the team’s back up shooting guard, Mickael Pietrus, has been outstanding. Every number is up in this series, including his downtown rate, which is normally around 34% and is up to 45% and his percentage from the field, which versus the Cavs stands at 51% and not his usual 42%. In this series, he’s averaging 13.8 points per game.

Game six in this series will be played in Orlando. If there is a game seven, it will be played in Cleveland on Monday. Orlando certainly wants to end it all on Saturday in Florida. They don’t want to have to travel back to Cleveland for a bunch of reasons.

First, they’ve already stolen one game in Ohio. That was the first one, which they won 107-106. It will be extremely difficult to take another away from Cleveland on the Cavs’ home court. Second, they have the best chance of winning this series at home. Everything is in their favor, including the crowd. Finally, if James has a chance at a seventh and final game in this series, it’s hard to believe he allow his team to be beaten.

Game six, I think, is the ultimate gut-check game for both clubs. This is really where this series is won or lost. Whoever takes this game will win the series. Sure, that’s evident when it comes to a victory by the Magic. They simply do win this series if they beat the Cavaliers on Saturday. But of they lose on Saturday, they lose on Monday.

By the way, it has nothing to do with momentum. Momentum, most players would say, only exists within a game. Here’s no momentum between games or in a series. But it does have to do with who will control the momentum in a game seven. It will definitely be Cleveland. They will have home court, be led by LeBron James and put the best team in the East with their backs to the wall on the court. Who do you think will win a game like that?

The big question now is who will win game six? Whichever team, and I mean “team” with a capital “T,” shows up to play. If the best team shows up, then Cleveland wins. But if James and another guy or two try to win this pivotal contest, I’m thinking the Cavs are watching the Finals on TV rather than playing in them.

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