Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Well, that does it, y’all. I’m officially terrified to write anything about this year’s Magic team. Seriously. They win five straight games and I write about how hopeful I am? Time to lose four straight! If I despair over the losses and the obvious roster shortcomings? Let’s beat the best team in the league! At this point, I’m like Cool Hand Luke toward the end of the movie, sobbing at Dwight Howard’s feet and begging him to please not hit me again.
It’s impossible not to be made to look silly about this team. Keeping this in mind, I rewatched the Heat game from Wednesday night, to try and decide whether that win was representative of the season — volatile, highly variant, ultimately winning brand of basketball — or an outlier, the product of guys simply getting hot at the right times.
I gathered the high school debate team that I keep in my basement, posed them this question, and what follows is the transcript. The affirmative side is represented by a likeable multicultural team captained by an attractive and cheerful girl who has gained early entry to Wesleyan for cultural studies. The negative side is a bunch of sneering Aryan Draco types who will be finance majors at Brown.
OPENING STATEMENT: THE ORLANDO MAGIC ARE NOT BASICALLY CRAPPY; THEIR VICTORY OVER THE MIAMI HEAT WAS REPRESENTATIVE OF THEIR TEAM QUALITY
Affirmative opening statement: No less a poet than Nelson Mandela once observed that Twitter and a 24-hour news cycle have completely warped sports fans’ perspective and expectations. Whereas random variance and occasional losses once were processed semi-rationally (in every market outside of New York), the speed at which commentary moves now demands fans make opinions after every game — thus, every win guarantees a championship and every loss a failure.
The second quarter of the Miami game on Wednesday showed that, even with obvious roster shortcomings, the Magic have assembled enough talent to compete with anyone in the league. They scored their points on either excellent perimeter ball movement or as the product of outworking the other team in the post. They were able to absorb the impact of their recently porous defense, allowing Dwyane Wade 500,000 points on unmolested layups, and still win. Their greatest advantage, Dwight Howard, was both productive in himself and as a means of drawing attention from other players, resulting in excellent spacing and a metric ton of rebounds.
The above stated facts have led me to conclude that the Orlando Magic are not basically crappy, and that their victory over the Miami Heat was representative of their team quality.
Negative opening statement: I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said that even a broken clock is wrong twice a day.
We have long known the Magic can shoot well enough on any given night to beat a good team, but their method is simply not sustainable without more talent. Magic fans’ hopes rest on Ryan Anderson, who looks like a waterlogged Ben Affleck. Even if the team can occasionally catch lightning in a bottle, it’s foolish to have any long-term hopes for this team, because Dwight Howard is an enormous fickle infant, and unless the Magic reconciles itself to its essential crappiness, it will not rebuild enough to make up for the inevitable loss of Dwight Howard.
Affirmative rebuttal: People who refer to the Magic with singular possessives are intellectualy insecure twits. Ryan Anderson does not look like Ben Affleck.
Negative rebuttal: He does. He really does. If you made a moon bounce version of Ben Affleck or one of those sponge creations that children add water to to make enormous superhero-type deals, but if it was Ben Affleck. It should also be said that Otis Smith is still the general manager in Orlando, for whatever that’s worth.
Negative closing statement: Jason Richardson starts for the Orlando Magic. Chris Duhon plays for the Orlando Magic. There is no backup center, except for occasional minutes from Glen Davis. Anderson, the team’s second-best player, might actually be slower than most spry cater-waiters. It is obvious the Magic are sort of crappy.
Affirmative closing statement: We are forced to basically concede that the Magic, as presently constructed, are sort of crappy. We understand that Jason Richardson plays as if he literally does not have knees, but rather straight and frail rods for legs, like fluorescent tubes. We understand that Chris Duhon, during the start of the Magic’s run on Wednesday, literally dribbled into a crowd of three Heat players seemingly out of sheer will, before unaccountably hurling the ball straight into the backcourt. We are forced to confront that Hedo Turkoglu alternately looks like a genius or a lazy uncle who will not put down his Po Boy to hand you the remote.
However, they do still have enough talent which is used uniquely enough to win against anybody when they catch a ton of breaks. The Magic are a good team. Or, at least, to actually quote actual Ernest Hemingway: “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
VERDICT: Those kids in the negative are SO POMPOUS! Affirmative wins, though it be added to the resolution that Ryan Anderson does look like a very meaty Ben Affleck.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
I love Lin-sanity. I love it. There are a lot of reasons I’m rooting for him, but the largest reason is that Asian-Americans seem to be one of the few minorities it’s broadly acceptable to mock in public, particularly in sports. Seriously, how many people have you heard sneer the word “Asian” in a way no decent person would say “black” or “Hispanic” any more, especially when recounting a pickup game where an Asian player was really good? I’m not alone here in noticing this, right? Anyway, he seems like the perfect player to play well for Mike D’Antoni, who, if you’ll recall, made real NBA players out of Leandro Barbosa, Raja Bell and Boris Diaw. He’s the best coach for totally idiosyncratic players.
Cavaliers 99, Clippers 92
Kyrie Irving definitively proved, against one of the league’s top point guards, that he is an All-Star caliber point guard and capable of … what’s that? Irving didn’t play? The Clippers won because Antawn Jamison scored 27 points? Bummer. At least we know Jamison is still alive, I guess. How the hell did the Cavs win?
Suns 99, Hawks 90
I’m just kidding. I didn’t watch this game and neither did you. If you did, that’s a real warning sign for an honest-to-God addiction.
Only two emails this week, friends, and we’d been doing so well. Step up your game next week, especially because we still need revisions for the drinking game I posted last week. We want to drink along with you, and share our calamities on the interbotz. To the emails!
“Simple question, short and to the point. Who’s better, 2009 Rashard Lewis or 2012 Ryan Anderson?”
Before I address this, I’d like to inform our reader’s that Greg’s email was typed in the font Garamond. It’s a strong font. Serif, but pretty jazz-age looking. Hadn’t seen it before. Hats off to Greg!
Your question, Greg. Short answer: Anderson, and it’s more clear than you think. Anderson so far this season has posted a higher PER, slightly higher True Shooting percentage (with slightly lower usage), much higher rebound rate, and more points per 36 minutes than Lewis in 2009.
I’m sure people will disagree with me on this — it’s become popular for Magic fans to talk poorly about Anderson’s defense ever since SVG mentioned it in preseason, and Lewis is rightfully considered the piece that made the Magic contenders. But Anderson’s defense has improved a lot, and is certainly enough to justify keeping him on the court for his offense, and Lewis was not the all-world player we remember him as. Shard’s peak was really in Seattle, and while his addition to the team allowed a stylistic growth, it’s clear Anderson is an improvement in a similar role. Plus, I can’t overstate how important Anderson is as a secondary rebounder, especially on offense. With Dwight so often sprinting back on defense, having a wide body with such capable rebounding skills means that the Magic can really put teams through the wringer on the glass.
Reader Carlo Simone:
“This week is a big week for the Magic and the Southeast Division with games against both the Heat and Hawks. Divisions in the NBA are somewhat irrelevant as they only come up in rare tiebreakers. It’s not like the NFL where divisions are everything and playoff seeding can sometimes be luck of the draw. While I think the NBA is more “fair” in this regard, I do think the NFL is way more exciting in terms of playoff races and rivalries. My question is do you think the NBA should make divisions more important than just getting a banner? If so, how could they accomplish that?”
I agree with you that the NFL has more exciting divisional races, but I would posit that it’s a function of their playoff system more than their divisions. There are way fewer playoff spots — few enough that good teams will miss the playoffs every year — so the division has an outsize importance as the entry into the postseason.
In the NBA, where my rec team could make the playoffs in the East (if I had a rec team), I would argue that going the opposite direction would make things more exciting. I say, go division-free and have teams battle straight-up throughout the conference. To be honest with you, I’d love to see the league go conference-less, like the EPL, so that we could have top of the table battles between serious heavyweights regardless of geography and the eight seeds wouldn’t go to 36-win joker teams.
So to answer your question, I’m not really sweating how the divisions are hyped, since I think they’re sort of antiquated as it stands.
Alright everybody. That’s this week. Email us for next week’s column: mbnhoops[at]gmail[dot]com. SEND US DRINKING GAME SUGGESTIONS.
Danny Nowell is a contributing writer for Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.