Posted by Neil Paine on April 16, 2009
Regular Season: 50 wins was probably a good expectation for Orlando going into the '09 season, since they were a relatively young team with a superstar like Dwight Howard and a solid supporting cast of Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, and Jameer Nelson. But none except the most ardent Magic fans dreamed they'd be championship contenders... and that's exactly what they became as the season went on. They split the season series with Boston, took 2 of 3 against the Cavs, and won both of their games with the Lakers. And they even semi-covered the devastating midseason loss of Nelson by picking up Rafer Alston at the trade deadline. All of this has successfully established the Magic as a bit of a "dark horse" title team going into these playoffs.
Prime-Time Players: 1. Dwight Howard. The best young big man in basketball is coming off another monster regular season, and he's primed for a strong playoff performance. If his teammates make a concerted effort to get him shots, he'll be a difference-maker, because few opponents can stop him from doing whatever he wants when he gets the ball in deep.
2. Rashard Lewis. It's good to have a deadeye marksman on the perimeter when you've got an inside threat like Howard, and in Lewis the Magic have one of the best. The 6'10" forward led the most prolific 3-point shooting team in NBA history with 220 treys (39.7%) this season, and his ability to stretch the floor will be huge for Orlando in the postseason.
3. Hedo Turkoglu. Despite his down season, the guy has a reputation for taking -- and making -- clutch shots, game-winners, and buzzer-beaters. He's the guy they look to in pressure situations, and you can bet he'll face his share of those in the coming weeks.
But don't count on... The supporting cast. Alston is a decent PG, but he's not exactly known for his strong playoff performances. Meanwhile the rest of the team, while good at knocking down threes, is generally inexperienced, and didn't exactly add a whole lot in the regular season to begin with. In other words, there's a steep drop-off after the "Big 3" of Howard, Lewis, & Turkoglu.
Why they can win: They're a defensively-oriented team, which is always a plus in the playoffs. Howard is a stud, and they've surrounded him with good shooters. In the regular season, the Magic proved they can beat even the strongest of potential postseason opponents.
Why they can't win: Over-reliance on the 3-ball can be a deadly game of Russian roulette. When they're falling, you're invincible; when they aren't, you have to fight hard just to stay close... Boom-and-bust offenses like that tend to make early exits. Also, they lack the overall talent level of a team like Cleveland or Boston.
X-Factor: If "defense wins championships," the Magic have got it covered -- thanks to KG's injury in Boston, Orlando actually pulled ahead of the Celtics for the league's top DRtg in the season's final month. The defensive leader has won the NBA title 5 times since 1996.
|Magic vs.||Off.||Def.||Reb.||Coach||Exp.||The Skinny||Prediction|
|Atlanta||X||X||X||X||Took 3 of 4 vs. Hawks in RS; shouldn't be a problem||Magic in 5|
|Boston||Push||X||Can Magic overcome C's homecourt advantage?||Magic in 7|
|Chicago||X||X||X||X||X||Orlando the far better team, though Bulls could steal a game||Magic in 5|
|Cleveland||Push||X||No answers for Cavs' dominance at home||Cavs in 6|
|Detroit||X||X||X||Hex broken as Magic beat a shadow of formerly-great Pistons||Magic in 5|
|Miami||X||X||X||X||X||Wade can only do so much||Magic in 5|
|Philadelphia||X||X||X||X||No worries for Magic, who dominate at both ends||Magic in 5|
(Key: "X" = Advantage; blank = disadvantage)