The Orlando Magic and the Phoenix Suns each gave their fanbases a glimmer of hope with recent victories over the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, respectively. Just when it looked like each conference final was over, the Magic and the Suns pulled out gritty wins to keep hope alive. They each can still get to the NBA Finals.
Except, they won't.
Before Suns and Magic fans start cursing my name, hear me out.
For whatever reason, the Suns do not feel like a threat to the Lakers. This year's Western Conference Finals has a sense of inevitability, like the Lakers are just toying with Phoenix, like the Lakers can end it whenever they see fit.
In Game Three, the Suns went to a zone defense, which was smart because they no longer had to check Kobe Bryant one-on-one. It worked, as the Lakers were clearly caught off guard by the adjustment and went on a bit of a cold streak.
However, the zone is not the savior that some want you to believe it is.
First of all, the Lakers were not taking contested shots. The zone defense basically concedes that "we can't guard your guys one-on-one, so we're going to force you to take jump shots." That's exactly what the Lakers did; wide-open jump shots, in fact.
Those are open jump shots that the Lakers will knock down in Game Four if the Suns decide to play the zone again. L.A. will also be more prepared for the zone.
Not only that, but the Lakers still scored 109 points and shot 49 percent from the field. Over the course of seven games between the two teams during the regular season and the playoffs, the Lakers haven't scored below 102 points, and averaged 114 points. The Suns have not figured out how to stop them yet.
Amar'e Stoudemire will not explode for 42 points in this series again and the Lakers will close out the Suns in five.
Over in the more compelling series, the Magic kept their season alive last night behind great performances from Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard. The Magic finally showed some heart in Game Four, but it is too little, too late.
Orlando played about as well as it can possibly play in Game Four and Boston played about as badly as it can play in the fourth quarter and overtime of the same game. Now suddenly, some think Orlando can pull off four straight victories over Boston.
Some of that optimism is valid. On one hand, you have Mickael Pietrus and Vince Carter, who each had abysmal games in Orlando's lone victory in this series. If they each had halfway decent games, Orlando wins by double figures.
However, those two, along with Rashard Lewis and Matt Barnes, cannot be depended on in this series.
Notice earlier I said that Orlando played as well as it possibly could. That's because Boston's perimeter defense has been so good that Stan Van Gundy & Co. can't expect all four of those guys to get off. None of them have been able to contribute much in this series. J.J. Redick and Nelson have been Orlando's only reliable perimeter players.
Then there's Dwight Howard.
In Game Three, he put up an embarrassing seven points and seven rebounds. In Game Four, he punished Boston with 32 points and 16 rebounds. He's nowhere near as bad as his Game Three performance suggests, but Boston's defense will not let him put up numbers anywhere near to the numbers he put up in Game Four.
On Boston's side, they just have to cut down on stupid mistakes. Down the stretch, Paul Pierce took a bunch of ill-advised, flat shots when he clearly didn't have much left in the fourth quarter after taking over the game for a while in the first half.
Kevin Garnett threw a horrible pass with around 40 seconds left in regulation. To top it off, they couldn't even get a shot off at the end of the fourth quarter.
Ray Allen is the only reason the Celtics were alive in the final minute of the game.
In Game Five, the Celtics will not make those mistakes again. Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson will be held in check. Rajon Rondo will not be the afterthought he was in Game Four. Boston will close out Orlando in five, then relax and wait for the Lakers to do the same to Phoenix.
At this point, it's inevitable.