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NBA Playoff Recap - Wednesday, April 22

 

Two Eastern Conference matchups now stand on even terms, while a Western Conference collision has the scent of a quick kill. It was just another perplexing night of NBA action, as the league's eight opening-round playoff series now shift to different cities.
 
In Orlando, the third-seeded Magic tied their series at a game apiece with sixth-seeded Philadelphia, downing the Sixers 96-87 at Amway Arena. Coach Stan Van Gundy's club nearly blew another 18-point second-half lead, but Orlando's balance prevented another train wreck from unfolding in north Florida. Philadelphia climbed within five points (84-79) with 2:56 left in regulation, but a pair of baskets by Anthony Johnson and Rashard Lewis allowed the Magic to pull away late. Orlando did indeed stumble in the fourth quarter, but the presence of six double-figure scorers--led by Courtney Lee (24 points on 10-of-17 shooting)--gave the Magic a blended inside-outside offense that outclassed a three-man Sixer squad. Philadelphia received strong efforts from Andre Miller (30 points), Andre Iguodala (21 points), and Thaddeus Young (20 points), but Coach Tony DiLeo couldn't find any other significant contributors on his roster. Orlando had several players show up for this contest, while Philly brought only three to the fight. That's why this series is tied as the action shifts to Pennsylvania for Game 3 on Friday. One can only wonder if Orlando will either attain and/or blow another 18-point in-game lead...
 
In Atlanta, another Eastern Conference series took an interesting twist. After laying an egg in Game 1 on Sunday, the Miami Heat did an about-face to shoot down the homestanding Hawks, 108-93. Yes, Dwyane Wade threw down 33 points--including an outrageously banked-in triple with 2:38 left in regulation--to carry his teammates to the finish line, but the fifth-seeded Heat are now even with the fourth-seeded Hawks because of contributions from their supporting cast. Wade's superstar credentials are unquestioned, but the Heat will go only as far as their role players take them. In Game 2, Miami's other men bounced back from an embarrassing 90-64 loss just three days earlier.

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Jermaine O'Neal provided energy and passion that made a difference at both ends of the floor. By racking up 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 blocks, O'Neal allowed Miami to compete near the rim. Udonis Haslem hit two mammoth jumpers late in the fourth quarter to preserve the visitors' lead immediately after Wade picked up his fifth personal foul. Wade's backcourt mate, Daequan Cook, went 6-of-9 from 3-point range to give Coach Erik Spoelstra another perimeter presence. All in all, Miami gained production from several sources, and that's why this series is tied at 1-all. Game 3 is set for Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena near the shores of South Beach.
 
The night concluded with another 108-93 ballgame that differed greatly from the Miami-Atlanta encounter. Whereas the Heat had to sweat bullets before pulling away from the Hawks in the final few minutes, the Denver Nuggets had no such worries against the New Orleans Hornets. Playing at home in the Pepsi Center, the second-seeded Nuggets rolled to a 99-76 lead with 7:30 left before coasting to the finish line and a 2-0 series lead. The seventh-seeded Hornets put up a fight in the first half, but wilted under Denver's assault after halftime. The Nuggets' backcourt scorched coach Byron Scott's boys, as the trio of Chauncey Billups (13 second-half points), Dahntay Jones (11 second-half points) and J.R. Smith (10 second-half points) nailed jumpers with notable regularity. An 18-5 run in the first 4:30 of the fourth quarter put the game away, as Denver coach George Karl could afford to rest his starters with his team leading by 23 points. The desperate Hornets will try to turn the series around on Saturday, when Game 3 tips off at New Orleans Arena.

By Matt Zemek
Pro-Basketball Fans staff-writer


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