Tonight might be the clearest indication of where this series is heading. Are the Orlando Magic going to continue to miss shots? Can the 76ers avoid falling behind by 18? Can they avoid falling behind at all?
In a seven-game series, so many story lines seem to develop. So many topics are rehashed, night after night. Here are a few crucial ones.
1.) The Orlando Magic's outside shooting. I really believe this will determine the series. Through two games they have choked from the outside. They have left 2-3 made three-pointers on the table -- outside shots they made for 82 games in the regular season -- in each of the first two games. That additional scoring, or lack thereof, has cost them. Yes, I think the Sixers have influenced some of those shots. They've flown out at Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis when they have been open. But some of Orlando's shooters are just missing. Considering the Magic aren't a seasoned postseason team, you can think the first two games were a fluke. But if they continue to miss shots tonight, we could be looking at a series where they struggle from the perimeter, where they've gone cold. But if the Magic find their outside stroke, I think it will be difficult for the Sixers to put up enough points to match an Orlando team clicking on all levels.
2.) Samuel Dalembert. He has been less than a non-factor. He has more fouls, 8, than rebounds, 7. Reserve center Theo Ratliff has played valiantly with Dalembert on the bench. But let's be realistic, can the Sixers win a seven-game series against Dwight Howard with their starting center putting up worse numbers (4.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 13.0 minutes) than a second-string player? With Willie Green providing virtually no scoring from the two-guard spot, that leaves two massive holes in the Sixers starting lineup. Tonight, Dalembert has to be a factor. He says so often that he won't change his mentality of blocking shots and attacking players who attack the rim. Okay, that's fair. But, also, the Sixers need his productivity, his rebounding. Ratliff is a great defender and shot blocker, but Dalembert is a better rebounder and has the ability to provide more offense than Theo.
3.) The Bench. Yesterday, DiLeo said this team is its bench. I agree. The big games they have won, the bench (Donyell Marshall, Lou Williams, Speights, Royal Ivey, Reggie Evans) have scored 30-45 points. When the bench only scored 12 points on Wednesday, that was the game. Because Lou couldn't provide them offense, their ability to score was negated. Lou doesn't have to score 18-20 points again, but he needs a more efficient scoring night. Even a 5 for 7 would be important.
4.) Courtney Lee. So far, he's been Orlando's guy that has stepped up while the Sixers focus their defensive energy on Howard, Turkoglu, and Lewis. In the last couple of days, the Sixers have said they would focus a little more energy on Lee, but would not shift their defensive philosophy for this series. One thing the Sixers did say was that they must contest Lee's drives to the rim. It sounds like they are okay if he hits the outside shot, but allowing him uncontested penetration is unacceptable. Look for Dalembert and Ratliff to try to get some blocks if Lee goes to the rim.
5.) The defensive rotation onto Howard. I've received e-mails from people saying that Ratliff allowed Howard uncontested put-back dunks. Come on. Ratliff rotated to cover the rim on penetration, one time actually picking up a block. But no one is rotating to Ratliff's man -- Howard -- leaving Dwight to powerslam a couple of missed shots. This is not Ratliff's (or Dalembert's) fault. They have to rotated off Howard and protect the rim. What the Sixers need to address -- and DiLeo said before they game they had -- is the next player rotating and putting a body on Howard. No one is saying that whomever rotates will be able to prevent Howard from getting the offensive rebound. But they could certainly prevent him from soaring 50 inches into the air, kissing the rim, and slamming home a miss. Even if they make Howard come down with the rebound and make a move, or even foul him, that sure helps the Sixers chances.