While watching the Orlando Magic's 107-106 comeback win over the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, I saw connections aplenty between the Cavs and the Nuggets, who fell to the Lakers in a nailbiter they should have won 24 hours earlier. These had been the two top teams in this year's NBA playoffs to date, but because they'd finished off their previous opponents so quickly, they had much longer layoffs than either the Magic or the Lakers -- and the extended idleness may have been a factor down the stretch, when both squads reverted to the form they displayed prior to this season. In the case of the Nuggets, the problems involved lack of focus on defense and a tendency toward bad fouls and sloppy mistakes. For the Cavs, during the second half especially, it was LeBron James' sense that he had to do everything himself, leading to repeated sequences in which he went one-on-five against the Magic. As the best player in the world at present (sorry, Kobe), he scored plenty of times in such scenarios, which is why he racked up an astonishing 49 points. But the marginalization of his 'mates eventually sealed the Cavs' doom.
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Tonight, I expect things to be different. The Nuggets are back in the playoff flow and Chauncey Billups will make sure that everyone understands how they got away from their game on Tuesday, and what they need to do to get their mojo back. Am I guaranteeing a victory? No -- but I expect one, just as I expect the Cavs to take their second matchup with the Magic without breaking a sweat.