Friday, April 24, 2009

Lee breaks loose, shoulders load as Magic trudge along

ORLANDO -- As part of his season-long rookie hazing, Courtney Lee was locked in a bathroom stall and doused with baby powder on the night the Orlando Magic clinched their Playoff spot.

Good thing his teammates eventually unlocked the door, letting him out with nothing more than white hair.


Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

He is a baby no more. Lee has become the Magic's unlikely savior in this tougher-than-expected first-round Playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, filling a void left by the surprising struggles of high-profile, high-priced forwards Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu.

While his veteran teammates look like they are running in mud, Lee looks like he is wearing wings.

"Our other guys look like they have the weight of the world on them,'' said a relieved Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "But Courtney is playing freer and looser. He's just playing. He was tremendous tonight.''

This series, tied at 1-1, moves to Philadelphia for Games 3 and 4 Friday and Sunday. The Magic won Game 2 on Wednesday night, 96-87, only because Lee led the charge with 24 points.

Lee, who averaged just 8.4 points this season, kept the Magic close in a Game 1 loss on Sunday when he scored 18 points in a team-high 41 minutes. He saved the Magic Wednesday from an insurmountable 0-2 deficit by playing the best game of his young career -- on the Playoff stage.

With Dwight Howard saddled with foul trouble -- he fouled out after just 30 minutes, 11 points and 10 rebounds -- and the Turkoglu/Lewis combination falling flat for the second consecutive game, Lee became the man. He made steals. He slashed to the basket. He caused havoc for the Sixers, who never expected this to happen.

"Most rookies would not want to be put in that kind of situation,'' Howard said. "But Courtney is different. If we're going to go deep in the Playoffs now, he has to do this every night. I just told him 'coach has given you the ball, now do something with it.'''

Lee, the 22nd pick of the draft from Western Kentucky, was never expected to become so important this soon in his career. Because the Magic were unsure of his talents, they signed veteran free agent Mickael Pietrus this summer to a $25 million contract to become their shooting guard.

Yet when Pietrus struggled with injuries and J.J. Redick still couldn't grab the spot, Lee stepped to the front by midseason. He was overmatched and burned throughout the year trying to guard people like Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton and Joe Johnson, but it toughened him for this role.

"I never imagined anything like this. I just wanted the chance to work hard,'' Lee said. "But I'm grateful for the chance. When the opportunity came, I was ready.''

The Magic, No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference after winning 59 games, have been knocked off their game by the upstart Sixers. They relied all season on the dominating presence of Howard inside to open up their long-distance shooting. They averaged almost 10 3-pointers a game, second most in the NBA this season. Yet they made only five in the Game 1 loss and just six in the Game 2 victory. They look badly out of sync, winning Wednesday on grit, determination and the back of Lee.

A good shooting team has turned cold -- except for Lee. He made 8-of -17 shots in Game 1 and 10-of-17 in Game 2.

"We're just having trouble getting the ball in the basket,'' Van Gundy said. "We're struggling, but eventually, I think in this series, the ball will start going in for us.''

Lewis and Turkoglu, the Magic's second and third leading scorers, combined to hit just 7-of-24 shots Wednesday. Both missed the final two regular season games with nagging injuries, but both insisted they are healthy enough to play, although neither has looked good in the series.

The Magic have given away their home-court advantage, and now must win at least one in Philadelphia to win this series. They have been one of the best road teams in the league the last two years, winning 27 games each season.

Although the Magic beat the Sixers twice in Philadelphia during the regular season, they have given the Sixers confidence in Orlando in this series. In both games, the Magic led by 18 points late in the third quarter, then allowed the Sixers to fight back into the game.

On Sunday, the Magic just collapsed down the stretch. On Wednesday, Lee was there making shots and making plays, offsetting the game-high 30 points from Andre Miller.

"He [Lee] has the mindset that teams don't respect him,'' said Philadelphia forward Andre Iguodala. "But we've got to find a way to slow him now.''

Source From :


DownHome Enterprises said...

Great blog. Im following this one. Nice posts and plenty of content. Please check out
and leave us a comment. It would be greatly appreciated.