So much has been said and bandied about the Boston Celtics’ Big Three, the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers and of course the playoff-tested Detroit Pistons.
But nobody of note really gave the Orlando Magic much of a chance with regard to Eastern Conference dominance. Most of the preseason polls had the Magic finishing behind the Miami Heat. A funny thing has happened, however. Since the Magic’s coaching fiasco over the summer, when Billy Donovan signed on to coach only to have a change of heart, they have been scoring points in buckets.
They hired a great coach in Stan Van Gundy, who was unceremoniously dumped in favor of Pat Riley in Miami. Thy have a solid team. They have a great center in Dwight Howard. They have a decent point guard in the up-and-coming Jameer Nelson and they have superb perimeter play in free agent pickup Rashard Lewis, who at 6-10 can score points in bunches and is a matchup nightmare.
Role players such as Keyon Dooling, Hedo Turkoglu, Keith Bogans and the newly acquired Brian Cook round out a firm cast of characters. What may be missing for this bunch is a Kurt Thomas or C-Webb type of big man to help take the pressure off of Howard during the playoffs. Cook, Lewis and Turkoglu are all 6-10, but their damage is usually done on the outer limits.
Both the Magic and Celtics have an explosive offense and underrated defense. The younger legs go to the Magic; but the grizzled experience which includes multiple All-star and Playoff appearances go to the Celtics. The Magic have the overall team size; but the Celtics have overall better shot blocking and intimidation in Garnett and still developing center Kendrick Perkins. At press time the Celtics are 12-2, while the Magic are 13-3.
With the East being so parity-ridden, can the Magic really break through and earn a trip to the Finals? It would be a first since the early days of Shaq and Penny Hardaway. There is precedent for not so great teams from the East making it to the NBA Finals. The 1999 Latrel Sprewell and Allan Houston-led Knicks for one come to mind. Same with last season’s Cavs.
Although the results ended it a slaughter by the San Antonio Spurs… How many other teams for those seasons can say that they made it that far? You got it… None!