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Virtually every set of predictions lists one of three teams as champion: the Lakers, Heat or Celtics. I’m wondering if this consensus is missing the boat on reality, and I’m not just saying that because the Heat and Lakers looked somewhere south of dominant Tuesday night.
In light of the fact that Orlando dominated the preseason after dominating the second half of last season, I find it particularly hard to swallow how dismissive most people seem of the Magic’s chances.
Apparently lots of people saw last year’s Eastern Conference finals and decided the Magic can’t be trusted in the playoffs … which might be a better argument if they hadn’t won the East a year earlier (with Rafer Alston playing point guard, for Pete’s sake). If the effects of Dwight Howard-stopper Kendrick Perkins’ knee injury linger into the postseason, the Magic might be able to outlast Boston in a potential meeting. Alternatively, they may not need to play the Celtics at all.
And then there’s the wild card: trades. Remember, you don’t win with your November roster; you win with the roster you take into the playoffs. Look at the top teams and at which ones have the assets to make major upgrades between now and the trade deadline, and you’ll quickly notice that it’s not the Lakers, Celtics and Heat who are holding the cards.
Teams such as Portland, Oklahoma City, Houston and Orlando sit on major asset troves, which could enable them to make the necessary upgrades and roster tweaks to push them up another level. You don’t think Orlando becomes a favorite if it can use its assets to pry Paul from New Orleans?
And that’s what boggles the mind. More and more, the Orlando Magic are being labeled as a great “regular season” team. For those that can’t read between the lines, that’s a nice way of saying that the Magic are soft or can’t cut it in the playoffs. Problem is, that argument doesn’t carry weight.
Because the core of the Magic, the same core that went to the NBA Finals in 2009 is still intact. It’s not like this is a cast of characters that haven’t stepped up on the big stage. Just because Orlando had a one bad series against the Boston Celtics, shouldn’t dismiss all the things they’ve accomplished the last two years. Rashard Lewis, especially, is a player that’s receiving a lot of undue criticism for how he performed against the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, leading some people to believe that he’s yet to have a breakout series in the playoffs.
I guess Lewis’ performance in the Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers doesn’t qualify.
If the Magic were a team that hasn’t proven anything in the postseason then yeah, it’s fair to say they can’t be trusted. But to dismiss them as a title contender?
That seems premature.