Howard is the real centerpiece of this team, and his absence puts the Magic at a very significant disadvantage. This team does have quite a bit of playoff experience, but it may not be enough to beat a hot, young Pacers squad.
Here's everything you need to know about Orlando's first-round matchup against Indiana.
First, the schedule:
Game 1 - Sat April 28, Orlando at Indiana, 7 p.m., ESPN
Game 2 - Mon April 30, Orlando at Indiana, 7:30 p.m., NBA TV
Game 3 - Wed May 2, Indiana at Orlando, 7:30 p.m., NBA TV
Game 4 - Sat May 5, Indiana at Orlando, 2 p.m., ESPN
Game 5 * Tue May 8, Orlando at Indiana, TBD
Game 6 * Fri May 11, Indiana at Orlando, TBD
Game 7 * Sun May 13, Orlando at Indiana, TBD
Read on for more on this fascinating first round series.
Without Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic really don't have a legitimate superstar. However, they do have a few veteran players that will need to step up.
It was Turkoglu who really led the Magic to their NBA Finals appearance back in 2009. He hit the clutch shots and handled the ball down the stretches of big games. Since those playoffs, Turkoglu has been a disappointment, never really recapturing the game he had then. If he can somehow in Howard's absence, the Magic may be able to sneak past the Pacers.
You can say a lot about Nelson as a player. He's too small, he's a liability on defense, etc. However, he is still one of the better players on this team. Right now, Nelson is averaging 11.9 points and 5.7 assists per game. Those are not great number, but the absence of Howard should give him a larger role to play in the offense.
Ryan Anderson has shown himself to be an extremely valuable player this season. At the power forward spot, Anderson has averaged 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game while also shooting 39 percent from three.
Few had heard of Anderson before this season, but now he's making a name for himself. The Magic need him to keep that up if they have any hope of advancing in these playoffs. He's a very versatile big man, which especially helps Orlando in Howard's absence.
It is hard to tell what the Magic will do offensively in a playoff series when the biggest part of their team in Dwight Howard is going to be gone. Normally, this team spreads the floor around Howard with three-point shooters and tries to use the two to provide spacing for each other.
I think the equation will largely stay the same, only without Howard. The Magic will try to become a bit like the Denver Nuggets, sharing the ball and playing extremely balanced on offense. That will be a good strategy, considering that the Magic lack a go-to scorer.
Dwight Howard's absence will hurt the Orlando Magic even more on the defensive end. Normally, the Magic play a defense with Howard as the foundation, guarding the rim and making up for others' mistakes. Obviously, they can't do that now.
The best strategy to adopt is to simply play lock-down man at every position. Without Howard there to bail them out, the other Magic players need to player smarter defense by not allowing players to get by them and by closing out on three-point shooters.
The biggest hurdle for the Magic to overcome in the first round will simply be the loss of Dwight Howard to injury. The superstar center accounts for 20.6 points and 14.5 rebounds per game. Those are not easy numbers to replace.
If the Magic can make the game a track meet in which both teams are running crazy and not playing their halfcourt game, they'll have a shot. But if Indiana slows it down, the Pacers will eat Orlando alive inside without Howard there to stop them.
Out in the First Round
The Orlando Magic will fight valiantly to try and make it past the Indiana Pacers in the first round, but they will fail. The loss of Dwight Howard will prove to be too much for them to overcome.
Pacer center Roy Hibbert will have a field day in at least two of the games, dominating the paint with no one there to challenge him.
Stan Van Gundy will come up with a good strategy for his team, but it will not be enough.