When LeBron was in Cleveland (and that seems like EONS ago, doesn’t it?) it was not the Boston Celtics that were his greatest foe, it was the Orlando Magic. Dwight Howard seemed as popular as him. The Magic were more balanced than his Cavaliers, and though the Magic were beaten soundly by the Lakers in the Finals, it was the Magic that seemed to have the continual momentum necessary to be good every season in the NBA.
Then, something happened. Hedo Trukoglu walked away from the Magic in free agency, and the team scrambled to patch a team together around Howard again. Vince Carter was brought it, among some other fill in players, and the Magic were again shooting for the stars.
Only, with Carter’s age came more than experience – slowness. The speed that defined the Magic’s success against the Cavaliers and other teams disappeared and the team began to struggle again, both in the playoffs last season and in the early part of the 2010-2011 season. Something needed to be done to recapture the swagger and talent that Orlando was again starting to build. So, general Manager Otis Smith made some shrewd trades that turned the Magic into what is now the hottest team in the NBA, and the team any opponent would least like to play.
December 18 the Magic got an Extreme Makeover, NBA edition. Rashard Lewis was gone and Gilbert Arenas was now in the locker room (presumably without a gun). An aging, albeit talented, player was now gone in favor of a perimeter shooter with some point guard experience.
Smith remarked at this point that his team needed “more punch.” He went and got it in the form of Jason Richardson, Earl Clark, and Hedo Turkoglu. Turkoglu is one of the toughest matchups in the NBA, and Richardson – like Arenas and Turkoglu – was being relied on for a boost to the offense.
It took two games and two straight losses immediately after the trade, but the Magic then cranked off eight straight wins. The promise of added offense was realized, though each added player has understood the role of Dwight Howard as the team’s focus and fallen into place, playing a role the team needs to be successful.
Since the trade, Dwight Howard has gotten 17.2 percent of the shots. He is the offensive focus, so that makes good sense. Richardson has taken 12.1 percent of the shots, Arenas 10.9 and Turkoglu 10.7 to round out the new additions.
When the Magic were playing on the same level – or really a level above – the LeBron-led Cavaliers the team has a balance unlike any other in the NBA. These new additions have helped achieve that balance again, making the Magic an extremely tough team to win over.
The Miami Heat are definitely good, but the schedule the team has played has not been terribly difficult. More, the offense is likely coming from one of three players. The Magic are far less predictable, exhausting opposing defenses because of the strength of the perimeter shooting game and power of Howard inside.
The Magic are just beginning to round into form. The Magic are only four games back from the Heat in the Southeast division. The real struggle for the Magic this season has been on the road, where the team is just 9-7 compared against Miami’s 14-5. This is an obvious and correctable flaw that coach Stan Van Gundy can no doubt address.
The Magic have one of the smartest coaches in the NBA and one of the most balanced offenses. Even after a huge roster redo, they are still the team in the NBA I would least like to play – even more than the Miami Heat.