Sunday, March 8, 2009
Is Orlando Flying to the Finals?
Back when I was still writing for Sports on My Mind, I did several NBA preview columns. I picked Orlando as my dark horse to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. However, I was much more optimistic about Phoenix at the time.
(Photos of Orlando's frontcourt (Rashard, Hedo, and Dwight) with fans is today's theme).
However, the last few weeks have changed my mind. I now believe Orlando can WIN the NBA championship, this year. What changed my mind?
(Quick FYI: these guys met Dwight Howard at the bowling alley.)
The deceiving effect of Jameer Nelson's injury on Orlando's record. For the seven games during which Jameer was injured, Orlando was only 3-4. They lost to Dallas, Denver, Indiana, and New Orleans. I think a Magic team at full strength loses two of those games, at worst. If they went 6-1, they would be tied with Cleveland right now for the #1 seed in the East.
Orlando's excellent road record They are a small-market team with no built-in fan base on the road ala Los Angeles or Boston. They are located in one of the corners of the country, which results in many annoying road trips. Yet the Magic are 22-9 on the road, only slightly behind Boston (23-9) and Los Angeles (21-8). That statistic surprised me. I thought a team built on perimeter shooting should struggle on the road at times because of the way each arena's rims and lighting are slightly different and fatigue. But it makes no difference to the Magic. Even if Jameer's injury costs them the #1 seed in the East, they could still have a chance at winning in Boston or Cleveland. I don't buy the logic anymore that the Magic aren't playoff-tested enough to make an impact in June. Which leads me to...
The 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers. Much like Orlando, most considered the 2007 Cavaliers to be inferior in comparison to the previous champion (Miami) and the playoff-tested veterans (Detroit). But when Miami faltered due to injuries, fatigue, and lethargy, and Detroit proved weaker than anticipated, the Cavaliers took full advantage. Losing in the second round the year before to Detroit was enough preparation for the Cavaliers to get to the Finals in 2007. I see no reason why Orlando can't duplicate that success.
Injuries to the best low-post defenders of other top squads. Bynum? Ben Wallace? Garnett? All of them could give Orlando's talented frontcourt problems in the play-offs--and all are now injured. Sure, Garnett and Wallace will be back for the play-offs, but both are older and may not be at full strength. I think Orlando's play-off chances have improved significantly due to all its main competitors having frontcourt injuries.
Acquisition of Alston
The Magic are 7-2 since acquiring Alston. He isn't a full replacement for Jameer, but it's rare for any team to do so well after changing their starting point guard via trade in the middle of the year. Meanwhile, Boston, Cleveland, and Los Angeles did next to nothing at the trade deadline, although I do think Marbury helps the Celtics match up better in the play-offs.
Struggles of Detroit. Ian Thomsenpointed out that the Magic are 3-16 against the Pistons since 2006. Unfortunately, Orlando is now slotted to play Detroit in Round 1 of the play-offs, and plays them again today. But if Detroit keeps struggling, or improves, Orlando will be able to dodge that matchup and beat nearly anyone else. And I've saved my best evidence for last...
Orlando's dominance against the other Top 4 teams.
Go ahead, guess Orlando's record against the Lakers, Boston, Cleveland, and San Antonio in the 8 games they've played them this season. 2-6? 4-4? No, Orlando is 6-2 against the other 4 teams, losing only to Boston! That's right, they've swept both LA and SA this year. Still don't think Orlando can win a championship this year?