Monday, October 25, 2010

The Orlando Also-rans?

With the 2010-2011 NBA season set to kick-off in less than 24 hours now, we bring you a last minute guest team preview courtesy of the skilled Clint Peterson. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for some quality NBA tweets. Without further adieu, here is Clint's forecast of last season's Eastern Conference runner-ups, the suddenly overlooked Orlando Magic.

While you were watching the Finals last June, Dwight Howard was working on his "Milk Shake." Allow me to explain...

"Gotta tell you guys that I haven’t been able to watch one game in the Finals yet. I can’t really watch it at all. Every time I turn on the TV and I see a Celtic or a Laker I kind of get ticked off. Sorry, that’s just the way that I feel.

I wanted to tell you guys about what I was doing last week. I’m not just sitting around and feeling sorry for myself about losing to Boston. I decided to get back to work on my game immediately, so I went to Houston to work out with Hall of Fame center Hakeem 'The Dream' Olajuwon. We worked three hours a day for five days last week.

Hakeem showed me some things with footwork and shots off fakes to get free. He was always so patient in the post and it was like he had defenders on a string with his moves. So I’m just trying to pick up as much as I can from him.

Hakeem had the Dream Shake, but mine is going to be the Milk Shake."

From The Official Dwight Howard Blog

Everything for Orlando once again begins with Howard. It's the endings of games that concerns them.

An atrocious freebie shooter, head coach Stan Van Gundy often been criticized by fans for being perceived as opting to stay away from Howard in the most critical of times with a game hanging in the balance. This leaves the Magic in unenviable position of needing to start out a game ahead and trying to stay there. This is paramount to what makes soccer one of the most unpopular sports in America, as most teams try to come out hard, get a lead, then spend the rest of the game simply defending it. You gotta play to win in the NBA, not play not to lose.

Throw in the fact that the Magic love to die by the 3-pointer and you suddenly lose a lot of options for winning ball games. Indeed, in losing to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Final last spring, Doc's boys watched the Magic heave 92 3's for only 28% in their four losses, and 53 of 'em for 43% in their two wins.

When you're down your instinct wants to take over and make that big-point play that gets you back into it, further removing the center of their game from the action, as 3-ball attempts tend to bounce away from the bigs as often as not. The league's leading 3-heavers (2241 3-FGAs in 2010-2011) need more offensive options.

So the question for the Magic and Howard is did they do so?

Key Losses

After failing to lure Raja Bell to LA, Kobe Bryant then set his sights on I-love-to-hate-this-guy 1a, Matt Barnes. Barnes took the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" route, joining the Lakers, although personally I think his tattoos would have been a better fit for Denver. He was made for that Nuggets mentality.

Also out are Adonyl Foyle and Anthony Johnson.

Nothing much "key" about any of this.

Key Additions

Journeymen Malik Allen, Chris Duhon, and Quentin Richardson who had seemed to have finally found a home with the Heat until the Big 3 2.0 came prancing into town. Also in are rookie draft picks Daniel Orton and Stanley Robinson.

Again, nothing very "key" about it. The Magic brass decided to simply try and tweak the roster a bit, rather than mess around with what should again be an easy 2-seed in the Eastern Conference, probably a smart move considering Orlando is leading the league in the preseason in both offense and defense. Q Rich should fit into the Magic's "4-out/1-in" offense better than Barnes did, however.

Since we've already covered Dwight himself, let's check out Howard's help.

Jameer "Half-year" Nelson

Nelson has yet to play a full 82 games in his career, and regressed a bit stat-wise last season from his previous All-star one. However, if he stays healthy his tenacity and toughness when he is on the court will relieve some of the pressure on Howard to create a post move he doesn't yet have with his mean drive through the paint. Defenders have to collapse on him or he will bull his way to the basket for an easy two. When he keeps 'em honest it makes for easy pickings for Howard on a dish-off.

I'd like to see more of this this season from the pair. It's highly effective.


Last year Vince Carter added a bit of that flavor I mentioned earlier in the form of another option on offense. He's the sole Magic man that is a real threat to create something from nothing off the dribble. It honestly seemed like a bad idea to throw him in there since he's always been used to being "The Man," but he pleasantly surprised by fitting in well.

There's still some gas left in that tank. Expect Carter to once again contribute to the success of Orlando, both in the regular and more so this year, the postseason.

Rashard "Don't Forget About Me!" Lewis

Um, yeah. Not goin' there....

Suffice it to say, if the Magic don't get something from him this season I'm dubbing him "The Next Jermaine O'Neal."

The Role Players

The Magic have 'em aplenty! Brandon Bass gets his very own mention at the top of this section for showing up stellar in the preseason. He was basically transparent last year, but seems to have found his niche alongside the, Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat. The pair have found a chemistry in the preseason that Orlando hopes will carry over all regular season long.

Playing with either/or Jason Williams and JJ Redick in the backcourt, and the likes of now-starter Mikael Pietrus and Ryan Anderson on the wings, as well as the aforementioned new additions, the Magic have one of the deepest, most talented benches in the NBA.

You can also expect to see plenty of minutes where SVG puts out his version of the Twin Towers, Howard and Gortat together, something I relish seeing on the hardwood. A few offensive sets for this pair wouldn't hurt, in my opinion.

Projected starting lineup

PG Jameer Nelson

SG Vince Carter

SF Mikael Pietrus

PF Rashard Lewis

C Dwight Howard

Probable win/loss total


Divisional prediction

1st in the Southeast

While most have the Miami, Heat already crowned, or at least in the Finals losing to LA, I'm not yet ready to hand them even the divisional the hardware. The Magic have looked awful good thus far and didn't get any worse compared to last year. Add to that the fact that the Magic are 8-4 against LeBron-led teams over the last two years, including a 4-2 playoff boot year-before-last, and Orlando is poised to make a whole lot of experts look silly. Again.


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