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With the Magic currently in third place in the East, I find myself wondering, “What’s so bad about this team? Why all the fuss about making trades?”
In the second half of the season, fans need not worry about who is going to make the playoffs or who looks “pretty good even though they don’t have a star.” Fans and analysts alike should only be looking at contenders. Real contenders at that.
Orlando, simply stated, is not a contender. So what should we expect if the Magic’s roster stays the same as it is right now through the rest of the year? A first round knockout from the playoffs is a strong possibility. Well, that is, unless they can play really well for a long stretch in the postseason, a concept that has been foreign in Orlando since the 2010 NBA Playoffs.
The only reason for such grim realism here is the ever-apparent truth that at the moment, Orlando is awfully inconsistent. Just a day or two after Duhon, Davis, and Clark play well, writers and fans are screaming (and tweeting) to have them tarred and feathered and kicked out of town. A day or two after Jason Richardson goes on a sizzling streak from deep, he completely disappears. Even the centerpiece, Dwight Howard, struggles at times with consistency.
We have witnessed writers sing Dwight’s praises for putting up a massive double-double and then turn on him saying that he has given up, lost the desire, or is playing selfishly.
To be clear, two types of teams go deep into the playoffs: 1) teams that have a versatile superstar who can carry a team (LeBron, Wade, Kobe, et al) or 2) teams that get hot at the right time (Dallas).
You just don’t see inconsistent teams — teams that don’t win when they are supposed to — go out of the first round of the playoffs.
Side note: it really is not as if any of this matters. As stated before, contenders are all you or I should care about. If you play in the East and aren’t Miami or Chicago, you’re not a contender. I hate to burst bubbles of the faithful few who think that an underdog team can knock off one of these juggernauts. It’s just not going to happen. So all of this talk about Orlando bowing out early shouldn’t be too difficult to hear.
However, to be fair, the other side of this coin is the idea that Orlando could potentially get extremely hot and roll into the Eastern Conference Finals poised to actually knock off a Miami or Chicago. After all, they have a top five player in the league so technically it’s possible. While I hate the idea, it seems clear that the only way a hot run like this would be possible is if Orlando indeed shot the lights out.
I hate the phrase “live and die by the three,” but there is little evidence that Orlando could make a run without finding major success from deep. Look at the games when Ryan Anderson spreads the floor and hits five triples in the first half or when Jason Richardson catches fire late to give Orlando separation. Try to recall the daggers that Turkoglu provides when teams are trying to close the gap after a hot Orlando start. And God forbid Jameer gets in on the action and hits one or two. That, my friends, is a backbreaker.
When I break down the pieces of this team on offense, it still adds up the same way it did in 2009. Get Dwight going, get the floor spread, knock down your shots, and no one can beat you. I’m saying that is true of this team as well. The trick is finding consistency. In 2009, they did it. They were so consistent and so hot from the outside that they were even able to knock off the seemingly unbeatable LeBron James-led Cavs.
The playoffs are a weird animal. Hot streaks tend to get even hotter and cold streaks seem to hurt you even more than they did in the regular season. Orlando can’t win with just Dwight playing well or just Ryan shooting well or just Jameer limiting his turnovers. Orlando is one of those teams that need everyone from Dwight Howard to Earl Clark to play like they are the team to beat. We’ve seen it in flashes this season but not consistently enough.
Another side note: this may seem obvious but in watching Orlando live and on TV this year, one thing seems clear. When these guys are firing on all cylinders, they take on a collective “screw you” persona. A costume that says, “you can’t beat us.” It’s crazy fun to watch and if they can find that mojo in the postseason, then don’t count them out. If they can’t muster it up, though, forget about Orlando. Atlanta or whoever else will steamroll them.