Orlando currently sits third in the Eastern Conference standings. Not bad, considering all the hoopla surrounding Dwight Howard and the non-trade.
Unfortunately for Orlando, there are two things really working against them right now.
No. 2, the Magic suffer from lack of stellar play at small forward and point guard. Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu have been okay in spurts this season, but both become a defensive liability at times, and both will take some horrific shots as the shot clock is expiring.
While those are some immediate concerns, there is hope the Magic can make a deep run to the Eastern Conference Finals, and potentially the NBA Finals.
In no particular order, these five things must happen for Orlando to be one of the last two teams standing in 2012.
Dwight Howard has to become more consistent at the free-throw line
His foul shots are a liability to say the least, and it's not uncommon for teams to use the "hack-a-Dwight" tactic early in the fourth quarter. If a playoff game comes down to free throws, the Magic are hoping it's not Howard on the line.
The media, Magic players and fans need to realize Stan Van Gundy is a fantastic coach
He knows basketball. During the lockout, he even attended a Nike coaching clinic held at the University of Central Florida to hear some of the top college coaches speak. The guy (just like his brother Jeff) is a basketball junkie, and Orlando has a great coach. Some in the media recognize this, but it's time everyone give Stan his due.
The Magic need a closer, and it's probably not Howard
Closer by committee does not work too well, so who is the Magic's best option when it needs a key shot late? There is no Kobe or Dwyane Wade on this team, so who do they go to?
I think it clearly has to be Ryan Anderson. His shooting is off the charts, and his height presents defensive issues when he is spotting up. While he lacks the ability to create this own shot (like the entire Magic roster), he is the best pure shooter and, if Howard has to kick it out, Anderson needs to be the one shooting. If not Anderson, you are looking at Redick, Richardson, Turkoglu, then Nelson.
Glen Davis and J.J. Redick both need to average 10 points per game off the bench
The Magic's bench is among the most offensively challenged in the league in terms of raw scorers, so these two guys have to come in and provide offense. Everyone knows Chris Duhon will not be scoring much, nor Earl Clark. So it has to be these two guys. Davis has to make use of his body inside, while Redick needs to continue to shoot the ball confidently and fearlessly. Easier said than done.
Chicago or Miami needs to be upset in the playoffs
Any way you dice it, both teams have individual nightmare matchups defensively for Orlando. Who can guard LeBron James? Who can stay with Derrick Rose? Can anyone on the Magic stay with Wade? Chris Bosh? Can anyone out hustle Joakim Noah? The list goes on.
In a seven-game series, I don't think the Magic can defeat either team, especially with the opponent getting home-court advantage. The most likely candidates to pull off an upset would be the upstart 76ers or the Indiana Pacers. Both have quality young talent, but superstars usually prevail over young talented rosters (except in Oklahoma City's case).
Bottom line, the Magic have some pieces in place to be a contender this season. They are currently third in the standings, and have arguably the best player in the league in Howard.
If Richardson and Nelson can protect the ball and knock down some shots, the Magic have a chance. If not, it could be an early exit yet again from the playoffs and the Dwight rumors round II will ensue as soon as the playoffs are over.