It’s time to give credit where credit is due. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and irregardless of whether or not they go on to upset the Cleveland Cavaliers and advance to the NBA Finals, I’m ready to issue a sincere mea culpa to the Orlando Magic. It’s long overdue.
Just over 5 months ago I wrote that the Orlando Magic, at that point boasting a 33-9 record, would not claim Eastern Conference supremacy this season. There’s still a good chance that they won’t, of course: the Cavaliers are experiencing severe matchup problems for the first time of these playoffs, but they still have a guy named LeBron James to lean on when all else fails. Nobody is counting them out. Still, without that miracle three-pointer from James as time expired in Game 2, the Cavs could have been looking at the possibility of being swept, something nobody would have predicted just one week ago.
Hypothetical talk though.
As it stands, the Magic lead the Cavaliers 2-1 and clearly have the firepower and manpower to win this series. After years of being punked by the Detroit Pistons, they’ve finally grown a collective pair. They won’t be pushed around by anybody. They have moxy. They have the confidence to not allow an improbable game-winning shot by the league’s best player to simmer, to frustrate, to exasperate. This team, like the other three teams still playing, has their flaws… but they also have a serious shot at not only winning the East, but challenging the Western Conference champ for the grand prize.
Stan van Gundy, I’m ready to admit you’re more than just a vacuum-cleaner salesman playing dressup in a NBA coach’s suit. Your brain still skips during crucial situations from time to time (see final second of Game 2), but you’ve done a marvelous job of catering your gameplans to your roster’s strengths, of indoctrinating somewhat of a bonehead PG named Rafer Alston into your starting lineup midway through the season, and of making the most out of bench headlined by guys named Anthony Johnson, Marcin Gortat, and J.J. Reddick. Well done, Stan–you weren’t my pick for Coach of the Year, but you’ve done a great job.
Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis… keep chucking. It’s working. I’ve been fairly critical of your threeball-happy ways this season (and it still may come back to bite you), but it’s also saved you and your team on many a-night. Through three games in the Conference Finals, Rashard, you’re shooting 9-15 from behind the arc. That’s restraint, and that’s marksmanship. Nice one. And Hedo, the 1-11 shooting night in Game 3 was ugly, but to your credit you’re making up for an overall poor series from the field by chipping in elsewhere: 18-20 from the free-throw line, 8.3 assists and 6 boards per.
Dwight Howard, you’ve learned the lessons imparted by your buddy Rasheed Wallace well. You’ve stepped up the intensity and stepped up your game–you know there’s no kryptonite left in the playoffs capable of stopping you when push comes to shove. Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao clearly can’t do it. Nene and Chris Andersen can’t do it. Andrew Bynum certainly can’t do it. Nobody can stop you. You know this. Hey, you’re making your free throws from time to time too (14-19 in Game 3). And I actually like the technical fouls (though be careful, five is plenty). I like the attitude.
Jameer Nelson… we’ll revisit next year. I’m not quite ready to cross that bridge.
So, there you go Orlando–I was wrong, you were right. You’re a legitimate contender after all. I hope I haven’t jinxed you.
– The Orlando Magic Will Not Claim Eastern Conference Supremacy This Season
– It’s Time to Take the Magic Seriously Again
– Jameer Nelson Showing Leadership Skills for Orlando Magic This Summer
– The Orlando Magic’s Inferiority Complex