(Site note: If you missed the set up to this debate, click here. If you missed why the Magic will win (below), click here. If you missed how the Cavaliers will win, click here. Read Loyal Homer’s argument for the Lakers, then vote!).
The Orlando Magic will hoist this year’s Davey O’Brien trophy in their champagne soaked home locker room. Bold statement? Not when you consider how good this team really is.
First is their impressive offense, which has only picked up since the post-season started. For starters, their field goal percentage has gone up in the playoffs compared to the regular season. As a team the Magic shot 46% in the regular season to an improved 47% in the playoffs, and nearly 50% in the Eastern Conference finals. The Magic get better each game, so let’s compare regular season stats to the Eastern Conference finals stats and gauge how this team keeps improving.
Their defensive star, center Dwight Howard, is a big reason why they’ve improved so much. He shot 57% in the regular season, but has improved to 62% from the field in the conference finals. Orlando’s version of Mr. Big Shot, Rashard Lewis, (sorry, Chauncey) shot 44% in the regular season, but is now shooting 56% in the conference finals. The list of improved performance goes right down the line, Rafer Alston shot 41% in the regular season, but is shooting 45% now. Supposed backup and defensive specialist Mickael Pietrus knocked in 41% of his shots in the regular season, and is now money 49% of the time. These are not statistical anomalies – these are trends. The team’s ball movement and ability to spread the floor on offense with great 3-point shooters make it impossible to double Howard and prevent a 3-point shot. Keep in mind that it’s not little guard that are hitting these 3s and driving the lane – it’s a bunch of 6’10” match up nightmares.
There is no team left in the playoffs good enough to play Howard straight up on defense and not foul out in the first 5 minutes of the game. Therefore, the double team will come, Howard will pass, and the Magic will connect on a wide-open 3-point shot more times than not.
On defense, Howard, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year has been good enough in protecting the paint that the Cavs, and every other team the Magic have played this post-season, are settling for low-percentage outside jump shots. Not even great players (or puppets?) like Kobe or LeBron can connect every time. No remaining team in the playoffs can outshoot the Magic. Period.
Playing against the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals was a stroke of good luck for them, having gone 2-1 against them in the 2009 regular season, plus winning 9 of their last 12 against them going into the series. I’m sure Cavs fans were thinking this was the ONE team they did NOT want to play come late May. The Magic will end this series at home and move on to the West.
The Magic were great against the West this year. They went 2-0 versus the Lakers and 1-1 against the Nuggets. They actually beat the Nuggets in Denver, but lost to them at home in a dismal game on February 11, 2009 where they scored just 12 points in the second quarter just 9-days after losing All-Star Jameer Nelson for the season. They also shot a very uncharacteristic 30% in that game. Basically, everything had to go wrong for the Magic, and they still only lost by 9.
It’s easy to see that when the Magic get behind in games early, it’s because they aren’t trying yet. When they concentrate, work for open shots, dominate inside on defense and listen to their talented coach Stan Van Gundy (what’s with the short-sleeves under the suit coat, man – is it THAT hot in Orlando?), there is not a team in the NBA that can stop them.
Orlando over the Cavs in 6. Orlando over the Western champs in 5.