January 21, 2009
Having the best record in the NBA after the halfway point, for however briefly it may be, means you are an elite NBA team. Nobody is going to suggest that the Orlando Magic aren’t in the league’s upper echelon. However, perception among NBA observers in recent years has been that the Magic are very good, but not great.
Sure, Dwight Howard is a beast. And they have a plethora of outside shooters to complement him – but they aren’t title contenders. This team is buit for the regular season. They couldn’t actually best Boston or Cleveland or Detroit or Los Angeles or San Antonio in seven games.
It might be time to change that perception.
Orlando proved their mettle on their recent swing out West. The NBA title may belong to Boston, but the West is still the more stacked conference – nobody with a losing record will make the playoffs out there. Beating up on the Eastern Conference in the regular season can only be so impressive.
But to go on a four-game road trip and come out 4-0 with wins against each Western division leader in San Antonio, Denver and Los Angeles? That is a most impressive statement. In fact, it is by far the most impressive statement by the Dwight Howard-led Magic.
“This isn’t an, ‘enjoy it while it lasts’ ranking. The Magic are the best team in the NBA right now. And unless the C’s commit to taking care of the ball, they’ll stay that way. And if Big Z doesn’t return to his early season level of play, they’ll stay that way. And if Los Angeles’ perimeter defense doesn’t shore up, they’ll stay that way. The Magic are legit.”
While Howard may get all the press, this is not a one-man team. It’s been a balanced effort. Jameer Nelson has been looking like a leader at the point while posting career highs in points (17.1), steals (1.2), field-goal shooting (51%), free-throw shooting (87.5%) and three-point shooting (45.4%). Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu have been their usual efficient selves, lanky wings that do a little bit of everything and help lead their perimeter charge on both ends.
That perimeter currently leads in the NBA in three-pointers made with 10.5 per on a league-leading 40.3%. Compare that to their opponents, who are second-to-last in both threes made at 5.3 and shooting percentage from behind the arc at 33.6%. No, this team isn’t all about Dwight. The wings are having a major impact on both ends.
I’m impressed. And, for now, I’m buying. But you know how they can make me a true believer? Beat Cleveland or Boston in a seven-game series.
Jameer Nelson Photo Credit: Icon SMI