The Orlando Magic took the NBA world by surprise in 2009, thwarted off the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, and kept the Los Angeles Lakers on their heels in the NBA Finals.
Now they’re ready to do it all again.
Everyone has their hopes and opinions considering the potential match-ups in this year’s NBA Finals. Read on for the top five reasons why the Orlando Magic will represent the Eastern Conference for the second year in a row:
1. The Bench is Better
Orlando got past the Cavaliers last year with clutch shooting and tough leadership from Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis last year. That, and they did so with a mediocre bench.
Turkoglu is gone, but their bench has grown into comfortable impact players, and the Magic are now in a spot where they can rely on the guys off the sidelines more than they did last year.
If it’s not J.J. Redick hitting open shots, it’s Mickael Pietrus being in the zone, Marcin Gortat bailing out a foul-proned Dwight Howard, or Jason Williams controlling the tempo while Jameer Nelson rests.
Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass round-out a very well-balanced bench that can provide an instant impact in a variety of ways, if needed.
2. Jameer Nelson is Back, and Better Than Ever
His season wasn’t statistically where he or anyone in Orlando expected (or wanted) it to be, but his rise in the playoffs is showing us all the true competitor we always thought he was.
Nelson returned from a torn labrum last year and actually messed-up the Magic’s team chemistry a bit, but now that he’s back at the helm, the team has never had a better sense of control or direction at the point.
While Howard battled foul trouble and double-teams in the first-round, and Vine Carter and others struggled with their shots, Nelson was cool and calm, averaging over 23 points per game.
Considering Nelson was only relied on for 12.6 points per game during the regular season, the Magic have clearly found themselves another explosive scoring option to rely on.
3. Dwight Howard Won’t Be Denied
True, Howard battle foul trouble in the first-round against the Charlotte Bobcats. However, this strategy of “hack-a-Howard” back-fired on the Bobcats, and led to a clean sweep and first-round exit.
Orlando’s future playoff opponents, most specifically the Atlanta Hawks, will be best advised to play the big man and the rest of this Orlando squad straight-up, as we’ve seen what happens when the rest of the Magic are forced to step-up.
Plain and simple: they react accordingly.
This Orlando squad is no push-over roster, and even beyond that, Howard is too stronger and experienced to be shut-down for two straight playoff series, let alone an entire post-season.
As long as his shooters can keep the defense on their toes, he’ll get back into the playoffs in a big way.
4. Vince Carter Still Has it Going On
Vinsanity isn’t necessarily alive and well, but Carter is back in the playoffs with a squad very much unlike his former playoff teams.
First, he’s not the “top guy” anymore, and he’s allowed to roam the top of the arc with ease, while still possessing the creating and finishing ability that made him so popular.
Carter still can create shots for himself, and is still a big-time player when he’s needed. However, the beauty of the Orlando Magic is that when Carter is off, they still have Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson, and Dwight Howard to rely on for points, as well as their well-rounded bench.
True, Carter loves to hang outside and jack-up deep jumpers when he’s in the playoffs. But when that’s sort of your team’s motto, that’s not really a bad thing these days.
5. Repetition, Baby
The Magic just went through this process of being second-guessed last year, out-played the Cavaliers, and made the Finals in 2009.
Their offense is just as good, and with a better bench and better overall defense, who’s to say they can’t get back and finish the job?
But looking back to last year, especially since the bench is different, Rafer Alston is gone, and Hedo Turkoglu is in Toronto, can’t tell the whole story.
Their success against their likely opponents remaining in this year’s playoffs, however, does.
Orlando holds a decisive 4-1 edge over their current opponent, Atlanta, while holding a collective 5-3 edge over the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers.
And if the Magic do find their way back in the NBA Finals? They split their season series with the Lakers, 1-1, letting them know they can compete once again for an NBA title.