It turned out to be a different matchup

Published 9:17 am Thursday, June 4, 2009

Nike must be scrambling and running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

I’m sure if you watch ESPN at all you have seen the humorous and often played commercials featuring puppets of Kobe Bryant and Lebron James.

The commercials really are funny and serve as a reminder that while those two may be the best basketball players on the planet, there is still one thing that separated them…championships. Kobe has three rings and in the commercial, reminds Lebron of that every chance he gets.

The marketing idea was a great one and set up what was surely to be the most anticipated NBA Finals showdown of the last decade in Kobe versus Lebron. It was a fantastic idea right up until Lebron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers got sent packing by the Orlando Magic.

It seems that Nike, the NBA and most every sports writer and commentator in the country forgot about Dwight Howard and company. The Magic have played incredibly well in the second half of the season and have been an absolute nightmare to defend in the playoffs.

Few experts (myself included) thought Orlando could win a seven game series with their gunslinger attitude, lack of defense aside from their defensive player of the year big man and constant outside shooting. Plus, I had my doubts as to whether Magic coach Stan Van Gundy had the presence to lead his team over what was sure to be some bumps in the road.

I was wrong. Orlando has been lights out shooting from beyond the arc. This has forced opposing teams to spread out defensively and prohibit double teaming Howard in the paint. Rival coaches have essentially been forced to pick their poison. They can allow the Magic’s sharpshooters to drop bomb after bomb on them from three-point range or let the leagues most dominant big man muscle his way inside from the easy bucket.

They did hit a snag in the eastern conference semi-finals and Howard, after a tough loss in which he took only 10 shots, blasted his coach for his lack of touches to the national media. Instead of responding to the media or allowing the young man’s comments to impact the team chemistry, Van Gundy simply listened to his team’s most valuable player and made some adjustments to ensure that “Superman” would become a more involved part of the offense.

While I was pleasantly surprised by the cool and calm way that Van Gundy handled the situation, it was the on-court reaction by Dwight Howard that impressed me even more. After his comments to the media about his coach, most sports writers and commentators responded to the big man by insisting that he become more vocal and critical of his teammates as well and if he isn’t seeing the ball enough on the court to “go get it.”

He too must have been listening because he has been playing like a man on fire ever since. His energy and commitment have been contagious and the Magic are playing their best basketball of the season right now. This spelled trouble for Lebron James and with the Cavs back in Cleveland it looks like the Lakers are the only thing between Dwight Howard and an NBA championship.

Watch out Kobe, looks like Nike is going to be making a new puppet and this ones gonna be a lot bigger!

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