Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Five pertinent questions for either side to mull over as the Eastern Conference finals fast approach ... 

1. How much will Dwight Howard's(notes) looming defensive presence affect LeBron James(notes)?

Part of me wants to list this as questions one through five. This will decide the Eastern Conference crown. Nothing even comes close.

The closest approximation of what we'll see from Orlando and Cleveland took place on March 17th, and April 3rd. The first game was a close home win for Cleveland. The second game was a blowout win for the Magic, in Orlando. Taking those into context, alone, one would be left to think that the Magic would have the upper hand in this series, destroying Cleveland at home while nearly pulling out a win on the road.

And though I'm not going to tell you that James played poorly overall, he did look shook. And it was the most I've had to see him work all year to score, because he couldn't get to the rim with ease with Dwight Howard there.

On the season, James managed a stellar line against Orlando -- 30.7 points, about 10 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and three blocks in four games. But those big numbers were aided by the fact that he had to shoot so much in these close games, while relying heavily on a three-point stroke (6-14 in the season series) that may or may not be there in the postseason. It comes and goes, and I'd expect James' 43 percent mark from the floor over the regular season against this team to hold up.

2. Will James shut Rashard Lewis(notes) down?

36.6 percent from the floor against Cleveland during the regular season, 15.7 points. Hedo Turkoglu(notes) is the straw that stirs the drink, but the Magic will win in a walk if Lewis has the series of his life.

3. Now that they'll be needed, will Mo Williams(notes) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) step up?

This isn't to say they've been lazing through the postseason, but Mo and Big Z have taken a step back in the playoffs. No biggie, the minutes have gone down and we're only dealing with an eight-game sample size spread out of one month (honestly, that really messes things up), but Mo will have to be Mo and Ilgauskas has to come through with the sort of early-season play that helped Cleveland on its way to the league's best record.

4. Will Cleveland's offense remind us of that old Cleveland offense?

The one you hated to watch? The one that took 14 seconds to set up a bad play featuring a low percentage shot as its go-to move? The one that made you wonder if Mike Brown was long for the head coaching chair?

There have been signs during the playoffs that this sort of offense might return, and Cleveland's last game in Orlando certainly reminded us of the Cavs of old, so this is worth paying attention to.

Quick, smart, decisions on offense, Cleveland. Don't hold the ball; don't wait for Orlando to set its defense up.

5. Will the layoff hurt the Cavaliers?

It's worth wondering about. All it takes is three bad quarters in the first game against a very good Magic team, or a bad first half in Game 2 when it is only two days later and your body hasn't had to respond to two close games in a while, and the home court advantage is Orlando's.

For five questions sent toward the Western Conference finalists, click here.

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