Keeping an eye on the competition | Magic Basketball

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Mar 11

Keeping an eye on the competition

Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

As seen on ABC’s Sunday Dime.

With the Miami Heat coming away with a much-needed victory against the Los Angeles Lakers to snap a five-game losing streak, it’s becoming clear that they’re locked in to the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference — at minimum. There’s 17 games left in the regular season and unless the Heat go on another prolonged losing streak or the Orlando Magic begin winning games left and right, it’s tough to see them falling below their in-state and divisional rival in the standings. As a point of reference, the Magic trail the Heat by three games.

Given that Basketball-Reference’s projected standings and Hollinger’s NBA Playoff odds predict that Orlando will finish with a record of 52-30, thus locking them in to the No. 4 seed, it’s time for the attention to be diverted away from Miami and onto two other teams in the East that pose as more immediate threats.

Meet the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks.

Even though the Hawks lead the Knicks by two and a half games in the standings for the time being, they are predicted to have a photo finish for the race to the No. 5 seed and the rights to play the Magic in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, each of them hovering around the 44-46 win mark. Thing is, even though Atlanta is “better” in terms of wins and losses, New York owns a better efficiency differential and beat them head-to-head on Sunday by the score of 92-79 with both teams utilizing their revamped rosters.

In the postseason, who would Orlando rather face?

To be honest, it’s a tough call. It’s true that the Magic blitzed the Hawks in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals last season but a lot of things have changed since then. Especially from Orlando’s side, where a majority of the roster has been gutted and refitted after general manager Otis Smith pulled the trigger on two blockbuster trades on December 18. Plus, with Atlanta making the tactical decision of starting Jason Collins against Dwight Howard, that strategy has paid off. The new wrinkle in the discussion is Kirk Hinrich, one of the better defensive point guards in the league and someone that can contain Jameer Nelson, a Hawks killer. Needless to say, the Hawks won’t be an easy matchup for the Magic. And then there’s the Knicks, which boast Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. Yes, there’s no one for New York that can defend Howard and that might tip the scales in Orlando’s favor. But in a seven-game series, the combined talents of Stoudemire and Anthony are more than enough for the Knicks to pull off the upset. Oh yeah, then there’s that Chauncey Billups character. The Magic had a lot of problems slowing down Stoudemire, Billups, and Anthony in their head-to-head matchup on March 1, so that series wouldn’t be a cakewalk either.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s amazing how far Orlando has fallen when it comes to projecting their fate in the playoffs. Entering the season, the Magic were expected to finish with a top three seed in the Eastern Conference, breeze through the first round, and do battle with either the Boston Celtics or Heat after that.

Now?

Not as easy.

15 comments
Bat056
Bat056

I am a Magic fan. However in reality I know what they are. They are a better team talentwise then they were last year. Upgrading Vince Carter for Jason Richardson was a very good trade. Bringing back Hedo and getting Clark in that trade were also good moves. In Carter they lost a guy who proved last year that he just doesn't have it anymore. Against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals in game 2 he had a chance to pull the Magic to within 1 point of the Celtics and missed both free throws. He also shot 29 out of 79 in that series. Not to say that he was the only one who struggled but I do remember saying to myself on more than one occasion in the playoffs last year that VC needed to quit trying to shoot the ball. Now they have Richardson who is definitely a much better player than VC at this point. They have terrific 3 point shootiing a big man capable of dominaing any opponent and a strong bench, with more talent than they had last season. The problem with the Macic is that they have just been terribly inconsistent. Which may be more of a sign of the team not gelling completely yet. The scary part about them is the fact that Gilbert Arenas has not been completely healthy since he came over but it looks like he is starting to get his game going and if he can do that then there will be a lot of teams worried about Orlando.

Hautsos11
Hautsos11

The Knicks have too much firepower with 2 of the best offensive players in the game for orlando to hold down in a 7 game series. And you know those boys are going to bring the D in the playoffs as thier hungry stars understand defense brings championships. There much better off playing ATL in the first round.

U/G-Spark
U/G-Spark

Cant tell that Bat056 is a magic fan can ya? Orlando will advance to the second round but that's it. Dwight can't do it all, other players need to stand up. Which they haven't.

Andwon
Andwon

Man your dumb and have no faith

Andwon
Andwon

I think you are stupid for thinking that. Heat are better than the bulls and none of those teams can beat magic in the first round.

Benjamin Gleicher
Benjamin Gleicher

Remember before last season when on TQC/OPP I suggested signing Jason Collins as insurance? And everyone laughed at me when I said he defends Dwight better than almost anyone?

BigCitySid
BigCitySid

Knicks are not a very good rebounding or defensive team, but they can run & score. I think the Magic would have a better chance of advancing vs the Hawks.

Bat056
Bat056

The Knicks don't have the size to matchup regardless of Amar'e or Anthony. The Hawks could matchup a little bit better but Howard is still dominant against them. The Magic won't have much trouble with them. In the second round as things stand now I don't see any first round upsets. Boston would play the Magic and I don't think that the Celtics can match up now that they traded Perkins. He was a big part of the equation for the Celtics against the Magic in previous years. I think Howard can dominate them now as I don't think Shaq has much left in the tank. Finally I think the Bulls will beat the Heat and in the eastern conference finals the Magic will beat the Bulls due to Orlando's ability to hold Rose in check. In the finals the Magic matchup well against most of the western conference teams. All of this is speculative because the Magic have to prove that they can bring their A game every game. They have been way too inconsistent so far this year. The potential is there though.

NHBluesMan
NHBluesMan

While Perkins could guard Dwight one-on-one, the Celtics are still more than capable of matching up with the Magic. Yes Shaq is old, but it doesn't matter if he goes for 30 points when the Celtics defense runs shooters off the perimeter and forces them into bad shots. The only time the Magic beat the Celtics this year was when Rondo was not playing, and they have more than enough bigs to throw at Dwight and get him into foul trouble, and considering he doesn't have a true back-up at center, that could create a problem for the Magic.

Not to say the Magic couldn't beat the Celtics in a series, but they are still a very difficult opponent, and can DEFINITELY match up against the Magic well... heck, when the Celtics had Perkins Dwight would STILL go for 20+ points sometimes

Pauly
Pauly

should have read 'saying they will be the easier out'

Pauly
Pauly

Sorry Aleksas the way the Bulls are playing they will be the easier out among any team is a bit foolish. In the end I hope we all get treated to another Bulls/Celtics series. The last one was one of the best playoff series of all time.

Aleksas
Aleksas

saying first round is going to be hard is stupid.
However 2nd round is where you can start talking like you did in this article. I hope the bulls finish with the 1st seed so we could face them in the 2nd round. For orlando it would probably be the easiest matchup going forward.

Ryan
Ryan

Knicks have no size besides Amare I rather play them

Burn1e
Burn1e

Knicks a threat to Orlando...................You'd have better luck trying to shoot the moon, then trying to sell me that.