Here’s Part II of my interview (click here for Part I) with Matt Guokas, the television color analyst for the Orlando Magic. In this segment, Matt talks about the Magic’s quest for a championship this season and more.
Do you think that Matt Barnes’ inability to hit threes at a proficient rate compared to his teammates was an achilles heel for the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics?
Yeah. One of the big problems, Eddy, was … the Magic were not really … the way the schedule broke, they did not get a lot of competitive games in the last 41 [regular season games]. Maybe four or five tough games. The teams were hurt or resting people when they played the good teams or they just weren’t playing competitive teams. And then even in the first two rounds, Charlotte and Atlanta just seemed totally unprepared. They did not put up any resistance whatsoever and I’m not saying that’s an excuse, but I think the Magic kind of got into a routine of saying ‘hey, this is pretty easy.’ And then by not winning one of those first two games in the Boston series, that’s what kind of cost them. That’s what hurt. Boston just brought it. They were riding the high. I think they were more surprise than anybody that they were able to get by Cleveland and they saw that fold in Game 5. They looked like the most shocked team in the world. They were like, ‘they’re just going to give this to us’ and Cleveland basically did, so now Boston was playing with a little bit of confidence. And then by winning the first two in Orlando, that obviously set the direction of the series but I would not point a finger at Matt Barnes for poor three-point shooting in the Boston series. I thought it was more about giving Boston more credit and the fact that the Magic weren’t as mentally ready as they normally would be had they been tested a little bit more
Would you agree that the Magic were more battle-tested in the 2009 NBA Playoffs when they had two challenging series against the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics before facing the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals? It seemed like Orlando wasn’t prepared after Boston punched them in the mouth last year.
That’s the exact phrase I would use. It doesn’t always look that good, but that’s exactly what it is. Boston came out and basically punched the Magic in the mouth in those first two games and by not being able to at least win one of them, I thought they would have been able to recoup and they would be alright in that series.
But going back to the year before in the first round against Philadelphia, they could have gone down 3-1 in that series. I think it was Hedo Turkoglu that hit a big three at the buzzer to tie that series up at 2-2. I still think the Magic would have been able to come back and win being down 3-1 against Philadelphia, but they were challenged definitely in that series. They had to play, and they were mentally and physically sharp because of it.
I know Vince Carter has gotten a lot of grief for his sub-par performance against the Celtics in the playoffs. How do you think Carter will performance in his second season under head coach Stan Van Gundy’s system? Will Carter improve despite his age?
Well, that’s a factor at 34. Same thing for Rashard Lewis. And you have to watch the practices and minutes and all that kind of thing, but Vince Carter has been playing the same way his whole career except for now he’s playing on a very good team and he’s playing with other good players.
And I think basically what the Magic coaching staff is saying to him, they just don’t want him to settle for the outside jumpshot. They want him to take his share of them because he’s a good three-point shooter, but they want him to be more of an attacker as far as getting into the lane, getting to the rim, drawing fouls, so that it doesn’t put so much pressure on his shot where he’s got to shoot a high percentage because if he’s going to the free-throw line, which he was capable of in his younger years, if he can get to the line seven or eight times, that would certainly put a lot of pressure on the defense.
But the Magic are not a team that runs a lot of plays for Vince or for Rashard, other than what they get off of Dwight Howard or penetration from Jameer Nelson or off pick and rolls, or they give ball to Vince and he runs off a couple of high picks with the ball but they don’t run a lot of stuff for them off the ball and I have a feeling we’ll see a little bit more of that for Vince and Rashard this season, which will make things a little bit easier for them as far as getting good shots.
Do you think Carter can be that aggressive at this stage in his career?
Well, I think he did it at the end of the season when he had the bad slump in January and then after that was over, I thought he played very good basketball the rest of the regular season. Now of course, when you’re playing a team like Boston, who’s a very good defensive team and well prepared, they’re going to take certain things away from you and they did. I thought they played Vince very well and played good team defense, and made it tough for him. But yeah, he’s still capable of … not being the Vince of 23 or 24 years old, but still capable of putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket some.
What do the Magic have to do to win a championship this year?
Well, it sounds very obvious but to continue the good fortune of being healthy. That’s a big key, and being sharp at the end of the year. Being ready for whether it’s Boston, or Chicago, or Miami, in the playoffs and come with that … as you said before that, that punch in the mouth attitude, which you have to do against the good teams. You got to be the aggressor. You can’t just react to them and play the way they want to play. You have to play your game and set the tone right from the beginning. The Magic are obviously capable of doing that.
Go back to the Lakers series. Not to blame Courtney Lee for missing that layup but it was a tough shot. It was more difficult that it looked initially. He makes that layup in LA and they would have tied the series up at 1-1. It’s a totally different ballgame. So it’s that close when you’re talking about the top teams in the league.
The Magic are good. They’re good defensively. They’re a good three-point shooting team. They’re efficient. It’s just a matter of having a little bit of good luck at just the right time.
What are your thoughts on the Amway Center finally being built?
I think it’s going to be great for the city and the organization. I mean, they put so much effort into this. By all accounts, it’s first class all the way and I think the fans are really going to be wowed by everything because it’s going to be so much different than what they’ve been used to in the old arena, because unfortunately the old arena just didn’t have all the modern things going for it so from the scoreboard to the restaurants to all the interact stuff going on and all the other amenities, the food, just the whole show, it’s going to be great.
When you talk about a great team to go along with it, it’s going to be a winning team, I think it’s going to be fabulous for the Magic and for the NBA.
Looking back, what was your favorite memory at the Amway Arena?
We did the 20 year thing a couple of years ago and we were trying to come up with our top memories and all that kind of thing. We go back to the very, very beginning. Our first preseason game. It sounds a little bit ridiculous that that’s the biggest thrill, but that’s the first time pro basketball in Orlando and the sellout crowd and the defending champions Pistons came in. They played okay but our guys were really psyched and we came out with a victory. You could feel the excitement and the enthusiasm that the city had for their new pro team, and it was a lot of fun for us. So it was the first memory, and there were a lot of other good ones after that. A lot of great wins. A lot of exciting finishes throughout the 21 years or whatever it’s been, but I guess we’ll never forget that first exhibition win against Detroit.
I like to thank Matt for taking the time to answer my questions.