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Rivers, Magic must adjust their focus

Milwaukee's second tier did the most damage in Game 1 of their series.

By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 25, 2001


Until this week, Orlando had no strategy for stopping Milwaukee's Scott Williams and Ervin Johnson because ... well, who worries about stopping Williams and Johnson?

It has dawned on the Magic, however, that its playoff life might now depend on slowing those two unlikely targets. They led Milwaukee's rebounding domination in the Bucks' Game 1 win in this Eastern Conference first-round playoff series and figure prominently in Orlando's defensive plans for Game 2 tonight.

Orlando may get away from the defensive wrinkles it threw at the Bucks in Game 1 -- coach Doc Rivers put forward Mike Miller on point guard Sam Cassell and point guard Darrell Armstrong on forward Ray Allen.

Rivers wants his best rebounder near the basket, not on the perimeter chasing guards, to keep the Bucks from outrebounding the Magic, as they did 59-42 in Game 1 and in three of the teams' four regular-season meetings.

Johnson (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Williams (19 points, 16 rebounds) did the most damage in Game 1, especially offensively, where Milwaukee held a 23-10 advantage. The Bucks turned that into 25 second-chance points, which Rivers said drained the life out of Orlando.

"We've just got to do a better job of keeping bodies on people," Magic forward Bo Outlaw said. "There were just too many people not being blocked out."

Here is Rivers' dilemma: He can't afford to give defensive help on Williams and Johnson because the Magic also must pay a lot of attention to Milwaukee's trio of stars -- Allen, Glenn Robinson and Cassell -- plus Tim Thomas, who is questionable with a strained back.

Allen, Robinson and Cassell were ineffective in Game 1, shooting a combined 17-for-52. But the Magic worries those three could get hot at any time.

"We're asking (our big players) to do a lot," Orlando star Tracy McGrady said. "They've got to help us out in terms of guard penetrating, boxing their guys out and trying to get the rebound. We're not faulting them. We're definitely going to have to find a way to stop the big three and contain the other guys coming off the bench."

Rivers said Tuesday that he won't revamp the defensive plan but will look to use more muscle -- centers Michael Doleac and Don Reid. Each played about five minutes in Game 1.

"We need to be really in their faces," Armstrong said. "We might have to go out and eat some onions before the game just to let them know how close we are."

The Magic also must solve the Bucks' psychological advantage. Milwaukee has won 10 in a row against Orlando, nine with Rivers at the helm.

"I think there are odds when you're shooting craps but not always in basketball," Cassell said. "The players dictate the odds. No matter if you beat a team 14 times in a row, if you're playing good basketball, you're going to continue to beat them."

If the Bucks make it 11 in a row tonight, the Magic will fall behind 2-0 in the best-of-five series, an almost insurmountable deficit.

"If we get down 2-0, it will be difficult," McGrady said. "I still think we're going to steal one of these games (in Milwaukee). I truly believe that."

- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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