Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
I gathered writers, the best of the best in the blogosphere, to participate in a roundtable discussion and answer some of the most pertinent questions concerning the Orlando Magic as the 2011 NBA Playoffs are set to begin.
So, without further ado, here are the participants:
Each individual provided a quick breakdown of the series between the Magic and the Atlanta Hawks, his opinion on the player that is the x-factor for Orlando in the postseason, and more.
If the Orlando Magic make it past the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, is facing off against the Chicago Bulls (as opposed to the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics) the best chance for them to return to the Eastern Conference Finals for a third consecutive year?
Zach Lowe: No. I don’t see facing the Bulls as any more advantageous to Orlando than facing Boston or Miami. Conventional wisdom has it that the Magic have problems with Boston, but much of that conventional wisdom was based on the presence of Kendrick Perkins and overlooks how competitive games between the two have been. Bottom line: Boston, Miami and Chicago are all excellent teams, and the Magic will have a tough time beating any of them–just as each of those three will have to work to beat Orlando.
Beckley Mason: It’s a better match-up than Miami because LeBron just kills them, but I don’t think the Celtics, as they are playing now, would be worse than the Bulls. I think the idea that Boston could single-cover Dwight [Howard] with Shaq is fairly laughable, but at least he might draw Howard into some fouls. The Bulls on the other hand won’t isolate Noah, and so Howard would seem less susceptible to picking up cheapies against Chicago. In any event, to get past any of the top teams in the East, the Magic wings are going to have to shoot the lights out.
Who’s the x-factor for the Magic in the playoffs?
Lowe: It’s tough to pinpoint one, really. This team is full of up-and-down performers outside of Dwight Howard. Jameer Nelson sometimes looks great against elite competition and sometimes flounders. Ryan Anderson has to hit his threes. Jason Richardson sometimes looks like an essential piece in Orlando and sometimes seems to have a strangely small impact on games. Perhaps it’s health–especially of J.J. Redick.
Mason: As always, Jameer Nelson. When he’s confident and effective, the Magic are a force. I think Hedo [Turkoglu] will show up like he always does, but Jameer needs to ball for the Magic to make serious noise.
In a possible matchup against the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, would Orlando be better served starting Ryan Anderson at power forward given the mismatches he creates on offense compared to Brandon Bass?
Lowe: Already looking ahead to Chicago, are we? The Hawks deserve that sort of treatment, I guess. In any case, I’ve always preferred Anderson to Bass because of the spacing he creates.
Mason: Brandon Bass hasn’t hit a three point shot all year, but he’s an accurate 16-23 foot jump shooter (and excellent 47%) so I don’t know if Anderson is an enormous upgrade as far as floor stretching goes. After examining their adjusted plus/minus numbers from the year though, it looks like Anderson makes the Magic better on both ends. Could this be? The more spread out the offense is for the drive and kick, four around one, endless pick and roll milieu of the Magic the better. Give Anderson the start, Bass can’t guard Boozer anyways.
Is there a route in which you can foresee the Magic reaching the NBA Finals?
Lowe: Of course it’s possible, given the edge Howard gives the Magic and Chicago’s relative inexperience, but it would shock me if Orlando actually pulled it off. The cast around Howard just hasn’t been consistent enough, especially on offense.
Mason: I suppose it’s conceivable that the Magic could upset the Bulls on the road, the Celtics would upset the Heat on the road and that Orlando could then catch another break or two and knock off the Celtics, on the road. I expect them to take a couple from the Bulls, but they’ll have their hands full with Atlanta first.
What does Dwight Howard have to do to put Orlando in the best possible spot to win a championship this season?
Lowe: Just be himself, really. He can’t play all that much better than he has played most of this season, save for the miraculous discovery of a sound free throw stroke. He’ll have to be 100 percent engaged, at all times, for Orlando to have a shot against the best teams, but that goes for just about every superstar on every team. If Howard’s game takes a step back, the Magic are obviously in trouble.
Mason: Play angry. Howard is a bad, bad man when he wants to be. He demolished that vaunted Celtics frontline for half of the series in last year’s playoffs. I expect he’ll have some monster games, but will he force his way to the line with the game in the balance? With his size and quickness, he can get to the line when it counts, but will he want to, and will he make the shots? His keys, in order of importance, are: Stay on the floor, trust his offensive skills, attack the rim on offense, make free throws, rebound everything.
I like to thank Beckley and Zach for taking the time to answer my questions.