Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
Boston Celtics - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with the team that as of last night clinched the Southeast Division: the Orlando Magic.
The success of the Orlando Magic begins and ends with Dwight Howard. He's easiley the best center in the league and his ability to move seamlessly across the court and finish around the basket forces opposing defenses to focus on the paint instead of where the Magic's biggest strength lies. Because when you're focussed on stopping Howard from easy dunks at the basket, you leave Rashard Lewis, Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston and Hedo Turkoglu with fantastic looks from beyond the three point line. Normally, you'd allow teams to beat you with jumpers but it's actually a preferred method of success for the Orlando Magic. They have players in the starting lineup and options off of the bench in there specifically to knock down jump shots and they are very effecient doing so. They lead the league in three pointers made and let that provide the fire for an explosive offense. Furthermore, the Magic have different options as to who can run the offense and who can bring the ball up the court, so it adds a bit of unpredictability to who is going to start the play. And with Lewis playing power forward, the Magic are normally much more athletic than their opposition. With Howard being a freak of nature at the center position, it allows the Magic to couple their effecient shooting with fantastic movement and athleticism.
Dwight Howard also provides an imposing force around the basket on the defensive end of the floor and that discourages a lot of the opposition from coming to the basket. Couple that with the fact that Mickael Pietrus and Courtney Lee are more than capable man defenders, and the Magic are adequate on the defensive end as well.
Since it's fair to give Howard the brunt of the praise, it's only fair to note that the team's biggest criticism is that they can't score inside. Dwight Howard is great around the basket, but is below average shooting anything four feet away from the basket. In a seven game series, teams can clog the paint and rotate players around the basket, which may force Howard to step away from the basket. He's not a fantastic passer either, so if he's not beating his opponent to the basket then the Magic may struggle to get points in the pain which would make for an overreliance on jump shots. And the Magic shoot enough jump shots as it is. Obviously, when you rely on the three point shot as much as Orlando does it's a "live by the three die by the three" scenario. In games where the Magic can't hit them, teams can easily pull away from the Magic and force them into holes. They're good at coming from behind, but you don't want to make it a habit in the postseason.
Also, even though the team is very effecient on offense, their lineup that exploits defensive mismatches puts them at a disadvantage on the defensive end of the floor. The Magic lack interior toughness and whoever Turkoglu is guarding will give his team an advantage when the Magic are on defense. Lewis, at 6'10", has the height to play the power forward position but isn't strong enough to guard an opposing team's power forward and also is less than stellar at rebounding the basketball. And the bench doesn't provide any tough interior players that can come in and spell Dwight Howard or provide defense aside from Tony Battie. And Stan Van Gundy isn't going to give Tony Battie many minutes in the postseason.
Why They Will Win It
Dwight Howard is the best center in the league, and when you have a great center you deserve to be in the conversation as far as the NBA championship is concerned. The Magic are among the best teams in the league and have played at a high pace all season long. You keep waiting for them to have a tough stretch shooting the basketball, and even though they'll have games where they struggle, they've been effecient beyond the three point line. They're incredibly tough to stop on offense and are a great home team. Dwight Howard alone will give this team a chance every single game because regardless of how much they are mistmatched on other areas of the floor, he creates the biggiest mismatch on either side of the basketball.
Why They Won't Win It
Dwight Howard, for all of his talent, may keep them in a game with his presence but doesn't command the ball in crunch time. Hedo Turkoglu assumed the go-to guy role last season but this year his shooting percentage is down and the team shouldn't be as confident with him taking the big shots this year. The team's lack of toughness is going to hurt them against teams like Boston and Cleveland, because every team has to be able to play gritty basketball when called upon. Dwight Howard sometimes dissapears in tough situations and that's a problem for Orlando, as he's their only hope inside the paint.
The Magic are too overreliant on the three point shot to win a championship. They can win a few playoff series but defeating Boston or Cleveland in a seven game series is an incredibly tall task for this team. Dwight Howard, for all the talent he has, still lacks a killer instinct and until he develops that, the Magic will rely on three point shots in close games and that will plague this team deep in the postseason. They deserve their record and whatever seed they receive, they just are undermanned against really physical teams and that's going to cripple them in a crucial game during a crucial series.
Coming up next: the Atlanta Hawks