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NBA / May 21, 2009 / 9:01 am

Everything you’ve heard about the Orlando Magic is wrong

Dwight Howard (photo. Mannion)

Dwight Howard (photo. Mannion)

Ever since Stan Van Gundy became Orlando’s silver-medal following the whole Billy Donovan tease and began to put his imprint on the Magic, we’ve been hearing the same two things over and over again:

1. The Magic can’t win until Dwight Howard develops a solid offensive arsenal.

2. The Magic can’t win if they’re going to live and die on three-pointers.

Now here’s the truth: Both of those statements are wrong.

In the case of Dwight, as long as he’s putting up 20 points, 14 boards and three blocks a night, I don’t care if he’s breaking out Dream Shakes and fadeaways, or if he’s just dunking on everybody and throwing in ugly hook shots. Dwight is going to be a dominant post player for at least the next decade. If he isn’t already the best center in the League, he’s a close second behind Yao Ming, and Yao can’t even make it through a postseason without re-enacting SAMUEL L. JACKSON‘s “Mr. Glass” role from Unbreakable.

Then there’s the issue with three-pointers. You can’t watch an Orlando game (especially on national TV) without the announcers making at least 2-3 mentions about how the Magic feast or famine on threes, then wondering aloud if they can go all the way playing that style. Admittedly, I’ve even done it myself in articles a bunch of times. But after last night’s Game 1 conference finals win, as I got e-mails and read comments from shook Cleveland fans still insisting their team doesn’t have to worry because “Teams that live and die on threes never win championships,” I realized that maybe none of us “experts” know what we’re talking about.

Because, you know what? It has happened before. The 1994 Rockets were actually built a lot like the current Magic. Hakeem Olajuwon was the anchor in the middle, and he was surrounded by a brigade of three-point shooters: Vernon Maxwell, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry, Sam Cassell, Mario Elie, Matt Bullard and Scotty Brooks. In the season where Houston won the ‘chip, they led the NBA in threes made and attempted — hitting 429 of 1,285 tries — finishing well ahead of the second-place team in each category. (Coincidentally, that team was the Shaq/Penny Orlando squad.) Granted, the current Magic took and made about twice as many triples as Mad Max’s team, but the entire League is taking a ton more three-pointers these days. For that era, though, Houston was considered a three-happy group.

The biggest difference between the ’94 Rockets (who won 58 games in the regular season) and the ’09 Magic is that Hakeem had Otis Thorpe up front with him, who was good for a double-double every night and could effectively guard dudes like Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Shawn Kemp while keeping Hakeem out of foul trouble. Dwight doesn’t have that kind of enforcer/cleanup hitter, although I’ve been saying for a while that Van Gundy should at least try to play Dwight and Marcin Gortat together once in a while and see what happens.

Either way, the experts will stick to the same script with Orlando, and the Magic will just continue to win. I’m not predicting they’re going to take the whole thing this year, but it’s not a crazy idea; the Magic do have wins over each of the remaining teams in the field, and they swept the Lakers.

Dwight’s elementary post game and the team’s live-and-die perimeter style was good enough for the Magic to win 59 regular-season games. It was good enough to take down the defending champions (on the road in Game 7). And, so far, it’s good enough to have them one-up on a Cavs team everyone had already penciled into the NBA Finals.

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  • kevin k

    STV told the magic players that they were all “witnesses” in half time LOL.

    you can say whatever about him being a master of panic, looks like Ron Jeremy, or whatever, but he is a unique and a honest character. In a league where the coach has no leverage against the players, he’s one of the few that stands out.

  • kevin k

    “Yao can’t even make it through a postseason without re-enacting SAMUEL L. JACKSON’s “Mr. Glass” role from Unbreakable.”

    so cold… but true…

  • Kudabeen

    Agree Kevin K…That was a great line and funny. If I was a player I would have felt insulted and motivated too…great move by SVG…

    Magic shot a lot of threes, but the guys taking the bulk of the shots are 6’6″ – 6’10″…meaning they are typically good uncontested shots. I’d rather have two 6’10” guys taking many threes than small guards jacking shots with hands in their faces. Orlando shoots a high percentage.

    People also forget they were one of if not the best road team and one of the best defensive teams. They do grind and when Dwight can get loose they are a problem, because you are stuck in between trying to guard all of their weapons. Then you have guys like Peitrus and Lee attacking or hitting shots. I felt Cavs were going to win in 6 and still feel that way, but Orlando isn’t a soft team. They have matchup advantages and that usually wins out. Clearly they can’t guard LeBron and we will see they can’t guard Mo Williams either moving forward. Mo will be the difference.

    Joe smith was having a great impact on the game, but he was used much less in the second half…

    These two series are shaping up real well. I’m actually excited to watch full games…how it should be.

  • http://www.geocities.com/dagomardeg Dagomar

    Last night, Lebron showed he’s the best player in the game. Unfortunately the Cavs showed they might not be the best team in the game.

  • doc

    They good.But lets not crown them East champs or champs against the Lakers yet.

  • karizmatic

    A team that lives and dies with the 3 pointer will not win an NBA championship. The Rockets team had Hakeem, who was dominant in the halfcourt set and that’s who they went to when the chips were down. Orlando shoots 3’s, eventually that is going to burn them. Rashard hit a great shot last night, but that’s not going to happen every night.

    Second The Rockets played much better defense than Orlando could ever play. These two factors add up to huge differences in that old Rockets team and this Orlando Magic team. Like you said that team also had an enforcer like Otis Thorpe not to mention a serious point guard in Sam Cassell coming off the bench. This Orlando Team doesn’t compare favorably. Another team set up this way on a lesser scale is the San Antonio Spurs, who basically shoot jumpers based on Duncan’s inside dominance.

    The reason it is necessary for Dwight Howard to have a developed post game is because he will more frequently command double teams which leads to more open shots…without this development and the emergence of a better defensive philosophy, Orlando is eminently beatable and won’t win a championship.

  • PALakerFan

    If I’m Cleveland, I’m freakin’. Lebron was “on fire” like in the old NBA Jam video game and they still couldn’t win! Bad sign. It’s doubtful Lebron will be able to play at level again this series let alone every game.

    Plain and simple, it’s a bad matchup for the Cavs. I’m not real keen on playing Orlando in the Finals either.

  • MSkittle

    Great article, Austin. I’ve been seeing how they’re like the mid 90’s Rockets too. They just need to give the ball to Dwight more in the 4th.

  • hahns

    @ AB

    great title

  • http://nerditry.com nerditry

    @karizmatic : Before you start talking about the Magic as a defensive team, realize that they were second in defensive efficiency as a team to Cleveland this season and just ahead of the Lakers in that category. Rashard hits shots like that on a very regular basis and if only for Hedo playing poorly and selfishly through most of the playoffs, does very much the same thing.

    Orlando, in fact plays below their potential. Rashard can take most any defender off the dribble, but for most of his career has relied on his height to take jumpers. See what he did in the second half and to Big Baby. Garnett is about the only guy who had the foot speed and the defensive prowess to hold him back besides Bron.

    Regarding toughness, yes, they need a much better secondary post player. Battie was that guy a few years ago and since coming back from a torn shoulder, hasn’t been the same player. Orlando could do well to pickup one of the three PF/C from Houston, even in exchange for Hedo. I would be pleased to have Hayes, Landry or especially Scola taking much of the burden off Dwight.

    Don’t forget, the Magic are without an All-Star (Jameer) and Cleveland has about 1.5 All-Stars with Mo getting the
    honorable mention.

    Take Bron away from this team and replace him with any other SF in the East and they do no better than the 8th seed.

  • Jsmoov

    I don’t get why LeBron was guarding skip? Put him on Rashard and make him do more than spot up and hit game winners. Or put him on Hedo, he didn’t have a good game last night but if he continues to be allowed to shoot over Delonte he will hurt them.

  • QQ

    Finally, an article Austin Burton and I can agree with.

    You, Austin Burton, is now the best writer ever. EVER.

    PS: T-Mac still sucks though.

  • QQ

    @ 5:

    No, we aren’t crowning them East champs yet, we just gotta give credit where credit is due. Show our squad some love ya heard. Cavs win one game, and yall talking shit bout ‘LEBRON, motherfuckers!!!!!’. We win one, let us talk about OUR shit.

  • Joshua
  • Chaos

    orlando is one of the more athletic teams in the league so they should be attacking the basket as much as possibly and drawing fouls. rashad, lee and pietrus should be taking their men off the dribble because i dont think they have anyone athletic enough to check all of them if they are all on the court, then they can go into a drive and kick style when the D are all drawn into the paint and let your true shooters (ex. reddick) rain down threes

    flipside: put big ben on dwight

  • bsteezy3

    Austin…I couldn’t have said it better, my friend.

  • CHOKERS DELIGHT

    The Cavs are 3-7 vs Magic Celtics and Lakers.

    That is not a mirage or an anomaly.

    The cavs choke when faced with Elite Competition.

    They win when they are supposed too and loose when they are supposed too,

    Not championship quality of basketball

  • Chaos

    Big Z is slow and not a defensive player, varejao is not as strong as you think and is a big flopper who needs to be beaten with a bat. i say throw some more bodies out there, like hickson or wallace. Hickson is athletic and ben is strong to delay howard camping out in the post

  • gertie

    hey austin

    who was the last 6’10” player to drop 14 dimes in a playoff game?

  • http://www.realgm.com Rare Air

    Magic gamed up – Bron got bloodied – in the idiotic words of KG “what can you say now?” – this is going to be a great series – I see both series going 7 easily

  • dmitry of jersey

    don’t get ahead of yourselves people. this is a 5 or 6 game series and Cleveland will prevail. not trying to take away from the magic fans – your team did good last night – but cleveland will take it to another level and not let this get to 7 games.

    that said, one thing i realized last night is that the magic play up to their opponents level. they let philly get way too close and played like shit in general in that series. same with boston. boston was playing brian scalabrine for like 30 minutes for shits sake. a championship team would have stomped them. now magic is playing a legit contender and raising their level pretty damn high. when (or if) dwight howeard enforces the type of concentration and will power on his teammates to play at the same high level every night against every opponent, THEN we can talk about the magic as a contender.

  • karizmatic

    @ nerditry

    I have to say I think defensive efficiency is a skewed stat. From what I’ve seen Orlando, and the Lakers for that matter are not good defensive teams. They are more likely to shoot it out with you than actually try to stop you from scoring. As far as Orlando’s potential, I’m not looking at that. I’m looking at how they perform. Ideally Rashard Lewis should be dropping 25 points a game…there hasn’t been a power forward in the playoffs that can guard him. But since he likes to shoot jumpers instead of attack the basket I have to assess him as such. It’s a shame because he could get to the basket regularly if he wanted to. I have said it before and I will say it again. A layup is a higher percentage shot than a 3. What’s a high percentage from the 3 point line? 40% 45?

    That will never duplicate the pressure you can put on a defense by attacking the basket and getting high percentage shots. In addition a jump shooting team is going to wear down as the game and series go on. The shots they hit last night…they won’t continue to hit.

    This is why Orlando’s performance is streaky and one reason why they won’t win the championship. Look for their shot percentage to decrease as the series goes on and cleveland begins to lock in on what they do..and if Cleveland doesn’t have the talent necessary I’m sure one of the Western teams do…particularly the Lakers, although they don’t play great closeout defense either.

  • CHOKERS DELIGHT

    @karizmatic

    Cavs 1-5 vs cavs and magic this year

    and they are not good defensive team.

    You Do realized Simba poured in 48 and you blew a 16 pt lead in a place you had won the previous 43 of 45

    Boy do you get a discount on stupid when you buy it in bulk?

    Jesus Reading that was painful you illogical illiterate Invalid.

  • Da Good

    @karizmatic how can defensive efficiency be a skewed stat, just because it doesn’t agree with your opinion on their ability? It measures the number of times your opponent scores per possession: there could be no better measure of team defence!

    Also your point about layups being a higher percentage shot than a three is obviously true, but not fully thought through as threes are worth 3/2 more if they go in: a .40 three-point shooter is the same as a .60 two-point shooter.

  • karizmatic

    @ Chokers

    The Cavs stopped playing, the other guys on the team weren’t hitting the same shots they were making after the first quarter. They were the same wide open shots…it had relatively little to do with Orlando’s defense. Who are you referring to anyway when you say “you” Do you think I’m a Cleveland fan? Wrong. The Magic do however seem to have the Cavs number.

    @ Da good

    That’s not how I view it. That particular stat as all stats leaves out the ebbs and flows of the game that are human nature.

    In addition you have to consider the Magic as well as the Cavs play in the East. Not the most high powered offenses in the league in any case. But I go by the axiom it’s not how much you score it’s when you score. By the same token it’s when you play your greatest defense that matters. But just to be more clear. I don’t view Orlando as a great defensive team they have a great impact player in the middle and they basically feed off that. Their perimeter defense is suspect. In fact, my point of view is that they are a rather mediocre defensive team when Dwight Howard is sitting on the bench. I think Cleveland will figure that out and attack even more than they did in this first game and continue to get Howard into foul trouble.

    You point is also true about layups and 3’s the flaw is that you assume that the same number of 3’s are taken as layups or for the sake of argument non 3’s. This is not ever the case and if it were the probability is that the number of 3’s converted would go down with each attempt. Even if it were the case no team is likely to shoot 40% in 3’s every game. Even if a team averaged 40% for a season or a playoff. It would be more likely they would shoot exceptionally well in some games say around 50% and exceptionally poor in others say around 30%. You invariably lose the 30% games and if you don’t win all the games you shoot 50% in…that’s how you lose a playoff series.

    All things being equal of course… and that includes my theory that Orlando isn’t a great defensive team, because if they are better then they might actually win some game where they shoot poorly. I haven’t seen that to be the case with them though.

  • doc

    @qq-U supposed to talk shit if thats your team.Im just stating the obvious at least to me,which is they didnt make the Finals last night,which is how yall talking.U asking people what they got to say now and all that shit and its 1-o,ONE-0,UNO-0.And we talking about Bron to the KOBE brigade.Kobe got about 1000 people in the world who takes it real personal that its somebody in the league that people love more than they guy.I would love to come on here and just talk about the games but I start reading and I see BS like see he dont got that incstinct Kobe got.He lost 3 games on purpose to play in a game 7 and all types of shit like that.I expect yall to make it a series,just not to win.And I seen enough playoff games to know that this shit aint over.

  • doc

    @AB-Its easy to say its wrong today,but in a week when u writing the next somebody gonna win article and it aint them.Then I guess we was right.I never seen no jumpshooting team win it all.That Rocket team was inside out,Orlando outside in until they lose a game then they do it the right way for a game.

  • Marvin

    AB the main difference is that Dwight is not Hakeem and will never be like him period.

  • Seven Duece

    Finally, people are starting to get off Dwight’s perceived offensive shortcomings. Rashard is still soft as Charmin, but as long as he hits threes (because he does NOTHING else), Hedo stops disappearing, Skip plays some D & Courtney Lee keeps showing he’s the steal of the draft the Magic can beat Cleveland this series.

  • jose

    Hmm. Let’s see there were 2 teams the Lakers couldn’t beat the Bobcats oh and that’s right the Magic. Sooo looks to me like we have this shit on lock.