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NBA Playoffs: Why the Magic can win it all and frustrate Cavs fans at the same time

Apr 15, 2010, 5:15 AM EDT

Thumbnail image for Howard_game.jpgThe Orlando Magic finished with the second-best record of any team in the league. They are the reigning Eastern Conference Champions. Furthermore, the old cliches go that defense and dominant big men win championships. The Magic lead the league in defensive efficiency, and have easily the best big man in the league on their roster. For some reason, the Magic are still regarded as a “gimmicky” choice to take home the Maurice Podoloff trophy come finals time. Maybe it’s because the Magic have never won a title before. Maybe it’s because they take so many threes. Maybe it’s because their coach has a goofy mustache. I don’t know the reason why the Magic still don’t seem to be getting taken seriously as championship contenders, but I do know a bunch of good reasons the Magic can win it all this season. Without further ado:

1. Defense

Defense wins championships, and the Magic play defense as well as anybody. Stan Van Gundy has the league’s best defensive player, and he knows how to use him. Dwight Howard shuts down the paint (no team gives up fewer points in the paint than the Magic), and the rest of the players on the Magic are adept at showing hard on the perimeter and funneling opposing players towards Howard. With Mickael Pietrus and Matt Barnes functioning as perimeter stoppers and shutting down opposing wings, the Magic managed to lead the entire league in defensive efficiency this season. 
2. Dwight Howard

Yes, he’s not quite a dominant one-on-one scorer with his back to the basket. Yes, his free throw shooting is still a serious issue. In spite of all that, Dwight Howard is still easily the best big man in the league. He’s capable of overpowering almost any center that tries to guard him one-on-one with his combination of strength and speed, and he’s improved his low-post game this season. If Howard is making his hook shots on a given night, it’s game over. No low-post player commands more double-teams. Howard is completely unstoppable when he catches the ball around the basket in dunking range, forcing teams to sag on the pick-and-roll and free up the Magic’s perimeter players. Pundits will focus on what Howard isn’t, but opponents will focus on what Howard is — and be completely terrified. 
3. Three-Point Shooting

The Magic love the three-ball, and for good reason. Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Pietrus, Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Jason Williams, Ryan Anderson, and Matt Barnes are all more than willing to pull the trigger from deep, and they’re all capable of making those threes when given the slightest bit of daylight. When the Magic are making their threes, they’re all but unstoppable. When they’re not, they still have the league’s best defense and Dwight Howard working inside. The Magic’s love of the three-ball makes them seem like a feast-or-famine team, but really they’re more like a feast-or-five dollar chicken plate from Ralph’s team. And five-dollar chicken from Ralph’s can be pretty darn tasty. 
4. Perimeter Scoring Options

Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson are both dangerous options as primary scorers. J.J. Redick has matured into a complete offensive player capable of handling the ball and draining open shots. Rashard Lewis is one of the most versatile power forwards in the league. Mickael Pietrus can get hot at any time, and certainly isn’t shy. When opposing teams double down on Howard, the Magic have plenty of guys more than willing to make teams pay for doing so. 
5. Stan Van Gundy

Van Gundy is perpetually hoarse, and does not look like a basketball course. He also has a knack for creating a system that allows his personnel to thrive, finding matchup problems, and isn’t afraid of making a risky choice if he thinks it will benefit his team. He might not look the part, but Van Gundy is one of the best coaches in the league and definitely helps the Magic’s chances of winning it all. 
6. A Chip on Their Shoulder

Too many teams play the “no respect” card in the playoffs, but the Magic really seem to believe it. Van Gundy has been fueling their fires all season in this regard, and the Magic certainly seem eager to prove that they deserve to be taken seriously as championship contenders. This postseason, they’ll have their chance. I’m eager to see what they can do with it. No team blends old-school values with new-school effectiveness better than the Magic do. We’ll see if that can be a championship formula. 
  1. Jace Hester - Apr 15, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    Awesome write up! All true but at the end of the day I think every team will respect the magic once they have actually gotten that first championship. It really establishes you as a franchise and what better way to get a franchise going than a championship in a brand new arena.

  2. Magician4 - Apr 15, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    I still remember some experts picking the Magic to finish 5th in the East behind the Celtics, Cavs, Hawks and Wizards (rolf!). It’s also a small market issue: it took the Spurs to win championship(s) to get respect from the so-called NBA analysts. The Magic can win it all, and I hope they will.

  3. MagicPhan - Apr 15, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    I was just listening so sports talk radio and the talking head was explaining why Cleveland will beat Orlando. It’s that bitter taste left in their mouths after losing to the Magic last year. Lest we forget that the Lakers won the championship final game in the Amway last season. And Howard and Nelson stayed on the floor to watch them celebrate on their court. You want bitter?
    What Cleveland tasted was confectioner’s sugar compared to that. I won’t be surprised if the Magic take the ECF opener in Ohio.

  4. johnstamos - Apr 15, 2010 at 4:38 PM

    The Cavs have never won a championship but still command respect. I think that in today’s media society, respect comes down to exposure. Lebron hasn’t played in weeks yet TV cameras and announcers always keep the focus on him. It doesn’t really have anything to do with team basketball when analysts make predictions more who is the best individual player and promote them as the eventual champs because win or lose its a great story. They finally make it and everybody was right and smart or they lose and nothing makes better press than an upset.

  5. Spicy_Tuna - Apr 16, 2010 at 6:34 PM

    Jace Hester, Like johnstamos said, the Cavs haven’t won a thing so no, it doesn’t take winning a title to gain respect. Sadly, it’s about money. Cavs & Lakers sell better than any other team so that’s what the media pushes and unfortunately most of the “Expert Analysts” you see on TV are former NBA players who don’t really analyze anything. Boxscore journalism and baseless bias is typical of them. Most recent example: Kenny Smith has the Hawks & Cavs in the ECF.
    Kenny Smith thinks the Hawks perimeter players will shutdown Carter & Lewis. Magic went 3-1 vs the Hawks with a 17 pt victory (missing Jameer and Pietrus starting), a 32 point win (missing Vince Carter), an 18 point win (full strength Magic team) and a 2 point loss. The Hawks were at full strength all 4 games (2 b2b for the Magic and 2 b2b for the Hawks), shot below 40% in all 3 of their losses and shot 40.8% in their 2 point victory. Orlando won 3 games by an average of 22 points and lost 1 game by 2 points on an amazing play by Josh Smith.
    I’m not saying Rashard & Vince haven’t struggled to score effeciently against ATL but Johnson & Smith have put up as bad if not worse offensive numbers (22 pts on 21 shots, 7pts on 9 shots, 17 on 17, 13 on 17 & 11 on 13). The thing is, every series for the Magic will be about Dwight Howard and not Vince or Rashard so how Kenny Smith doesn’t understand that or how he thinks Dwight/Gortat vs Horford/Zaza is a push is beyond me. Dwight in game 1: 22/17/4 in 41 minutes. Game 2: 12/7/4/3 in 23 minutes(32 pt blowout, Gortat saw 25 minutes in this game and grabbed 12 boards and 4 blocks) Game 3: 31/19/3 in 41 minutes. Game 4: 19/24/4 (2 steals) in 42 minutes. Those numbers are sickening.
    Horford Game 1: 2/9/2. Game 2: 14/5/1 (6-7 shooting). Game 3: 4/4/1. Game 4: 12/11/2. Al hit his scoring average 0 times, his rebounding once and his block average 0 times.
    I’m not saying the Hawks can’t upset the Magic if they meet in the 2nd round but to try and take a different angle on this matchup as Kenny Smith has done when clearly the Hawks have a Power Forward playing the C position against the most dominant C in the league is really weak of him and shows how bad the “Expert Analysts” are when considering that Kenny Smith is supposed to be one of the more knowledgeable ones (which he certainly isn’t). Entertaining? Absolutely. Insightful? Right…

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