In 2009-2010, the Orlando Magic (59-23) once again went to the playoffs after finishing first in the Southeast division and second to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. They have been and look to continue to be one of the top three teams in the East. But somehow the Magic have to work some magic and transform themselves into the best club in that conference. That will be difficult for them to do with the upgrades Miami has added.
The nucleus of the Magic frontcourt continues to be highly talented center Dwight Howard (.612% FG%, .000 3PT%, .592 FT%, 13.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 18.3 PPG). The 6-foot, 11-inch Howard, now in his seventh year, knows how to pound the boards and play inside. Starting at small forward is Mickael Pietrus (.432 FG%, .379 3PT%, .633 FT%, 2.9 RPG, 0.7 APG, 8.7 PPG) and at power forward Rashard Lewis (.435 FG%, .397 3PT%, .806 FT%, 4.4 RPG, 1.4 APG, 14.1 PPG). Neither is able to take the heat off of Howard in front, which means that the superstar has to carry the play in and around the paint.
At the point, six-year vet Jameer Nelson (.449 FG%, .381 3PT%, .845 FT%, 3.0 RPG, 5.4 APG, 12.6 PPG) offers excellent scoring chops. Vince Carter (.428 FG%, .367 3PT%, .840 FT%, 3.9 RPG, 3.1 APG, 16.6 PPG), who has been nagged by injuries the last few seasons, starts at the shooting spot. Last season was an off year for Carter whose performance was diminished due to poor health and age. The question is can he find his shot from the floor again? And if he does, will he stay healthy? Off the bench, J.J. Redick (.439 FG%, .405 3PT%, .860 FT%, 1.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 9.6 PPG) can add some threes quickly.
On offensive efficiency, the Magic were one of the best, ranking second in the NBA at 109.5. That was despite the fact that they were a poor offensive rebounding team and 29th in free throw shooting. By the second half of last season, they habitually blew teams off the court, amassing a 33-8 mark. They were second best in the league in field goal percentage (.491) and True Shooting percentage (.573). Only Phoenix was better.
The Magic led all teams in percentage of shots (.350) taken from downtown. That’s where inside players, like Pietrus and Lewis, earned their keep, as did various backups like Redick. The reason for this was partly due to Howard’s presence as so many teams had to focus primarily on his inside presence, opening up the perimeter. The addition of ten-year veteran shooting guard Quentin Richardson (.431 FG%, .397 3PT%, .732 FT%, 4.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 8.9 PPG) will only enhance this team’s perimeter game.
The defense was stellar, ranking first in True Shooting percentage (.518). The NBA average was .543. On overall defensive efficiency they were second (102.2) and on two-point percentage, the team was first. Howard averaged 2.78 BPG and .91 STL.
The Magic went deep into the postseason, being eliminated by the Celtics in six games in the third round. That was a major disappointment but not a big surprise as Boston was able to handle Howard man-to-man, which greatly diminished the power of the frontcourt and the backcourt. Last season, if a team had a guy who could take on Howard, they had a decent shot of beating Orlando. This is a problem that the Magic still must solve.
Coach Stan Van Gundy (282- 129), who has been an NBA coach for seven years, starts his fourth season with Orlando. In his first three seasons, he headed the Heat. In 2008-2009, Van Gundy saw Orlando get to the finals where they were beaten by the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. The team has yet to win a NBA Championship.
The Orlando Magic may be the second best team in their division and conference with the only club better being the Heat of Miami. But the team has its problems. Although they throw bombs better than any other club, they also have a tough time creating shots. When they go up against a team that can neutralize Howard it becomes evident that there’s very little playmaking going on. And if they go cold from the three-point arc, they can find themselves in dire circumstances. Although they are in the toughest division in the East, the Magic will finish second in the conference and, once again, have a shot at the big prize.
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