Do You Believe in Magic? The NBA Finals Begin Thursday
That's not Shaquille O'Neal. There's no Penny Hardaway. You won't see Nick Anderson. Dennis Scott didn't make the big three point shot.
But the Orlando Magic are back in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1995—the only other time they have made it this far.
This squad has a different look in 2009, but the players still fill similar roles.
Rafer Alston was acquired from the Houston Rockets this season at the trade deadline after Jameer Nelson was lost to a season-ending injury.
Nelson was having an All-Star caliber season, and Orlando found the perfect guy to fill his shoes until he can return healthy next season.
Mickael Pietrus reminds me of Dennis Scott. He catches the ball on the wing and he just lets it fly. If there's a hand in his face, he is likely shooting it anyway. If he doesn't shoot it, he is trying a pump fake and attempting to go down the baseline to the basket.
It's obvious that Dwight Howard and Shaquille O'Neal could be compared. They have very similar styles and are sharing similar success for their Orlando careers. Shaq went to the NBA Finals in his third season. Dwight Howard did it in his fourth.
Howard struggles with free throws. Shaq struggles with free throws. Dwight has a dominant presence in the post. Shaq has a dominant presence in the post. They have both broken things attached to a backboard.
Rafer Alston has more flash and flare than Penny Hardaway did, but he also plays with more reckless abandon. This can be good and bad. At times, it appears that his shot selection might hurt the flow of the team's offense.
Then you realize that this is Stan Van Gundy's Orlando Magic. They want to shoot three point shots as much as they can. Playing from the inside out is too easy for them, I would guess. Maybe they want a challenge.
Whatever it is, the nights that Dwight Howard gets 40 points, as he did in game six, are very rare.
You can't really compare Rashard Lewis to Horace Grant, because their styles are so different. Grant's role was strictly to be a defender and get rebounds. He could hit the mid-range jump shots, but it wasn't asked of him all that often.
Lewis, on the other hand, is part of Orlando's three-point arsenal. They have seven guys on the current playoff roster who can make three-point shots on a regular basis. All of them are trying to shoot the three point shot when they are in the game as well.
Orlando has never had a player like Hedo Turkoglu before. He is a "point forward." This means he plays the forward position, but he plays like a guard.
Orlando likes to let Turkoglu control the ball and come off the high screen to become a passer or take a jump shot. It is perfect for setting up their three point shots to other players and in return it gives him relatively high assist numbers.
Courtney Lee is an unsung hero. He has played with a fractured sinus cavity and looks like Rick Hamilton wearing that mask. He is still hitting big shots for Orlando when he is called upon.
This current rotation can put up 100 points a night with regularity. The Lakers can as well. This series may not've been what the NBA front office had initially hoped, but I do not think it will disappoint them too much once it is over.
The Magic entered the 2009 NBA playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. They lost a heartbreaker to Philadelphia in game one of the first round by two points. They won game two and it appeared they would get rolling in the playoffs.
Game three to Philadelphia led to another setback in Orlando's quest to advance, as they lost again by two points.
I am not in the locker room every night after a Magic game, so I can't verify what changes were made. All I know is Orlando came out in game four and they meant business. They finished off the 76ers in six games and advanced to the next round.
Then along came the Boston Celtics. The Celtics were the defending NBA champions. They were coming off of a tough first-round series themselves that went seven games against the Chicago Bulls. They were without their star player, Kevin Garnett.
The first four games of the series were split between Orlando and Boston. The Celtics would then take advantage, winning on their home court in game five. After this game, Dwight Howard criticized his coach for not making the offense get him the ball more.
The Boston Celtics had a record of 32-0 in their history when leading 3-2 in a seven game series. The odds were not in Orlando's favor to make a comeback.
I will not sit here and say Howard's comments were the main reason for the turnaround, because they are just words.
Orlando still took a lot of three point shots, but it did appear that they made an attempt to get Howard the ball more.
The Magic won game six and went on to win game seven as well.
LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were next in line.
It had appeared since the beginning of the playoffs that all of the media networks were pushing for a LeBron vs. Kobe NBA Final. All of the commercials we seen in between game action were centered around those two players.
Orlando landed the first punch on Cleveland's home court and stunned the Cavs. It was the first loss that Cleveland had suffered in the 2009 playoffs.
Game two had the potential to be a big turnaround for Cleveland. Orlando had taken with just a few short ticks on the clock left after "Who Do?" Hedo Turkoglu hit a two point runner just beyond the free throw line to give Orlando the lead by two.
Enter LeBron James.
First off, Rashard Lewis is the main person to blame with the outcome of that game. Mo Williams got to throw the inbound pass in uncontested because instead of standing in front of him with his hands in his face, Lewis stood to the side and watched the pass go in and protected the back corner of the three point arc.
I guess he was worried about Delonte West catching it from the corner. It's still not a good enough excuse for me.
Hedo Turkoglu can take some of the blame as well. He knew that a three point shot was the only thing that could win Cleveland the game.
He knew that LeBron James was going to take the final shot. He knew that was his man to cover. He knew that a pick was coming to try and get James open.
However, neither Lewis or Turkoglu executed properly and LeBron James had the easiest chance you could ask for to have a Michael Jordan moment and he delivered.
As an Orlando fan, a needle went through my balloon of excitement and made it explode. All the momentum that Orlando had taken from Cleveland in game one was taken back and then some by one single shot in game two.
But, like any good team does, the Orlando Magic did not focus on that loss and played with desire and heart in games three and four. LeBron was one win away from not living up to his end of the bargain for the dream NBA final.
Game five was LeBron's time to shine. He shined for the entire series pretty much, but it was only LeBron shining. Other key role players had selected good moments, but struggled for the most part.
After Cleveland's win in game five, the series could've easily went back in their favor if they were able to win game six and force a game seven back in Cleveland. I would've probably said that Orlando would have no hope if that were the case.
However, Dwight Howard and the rest of the Orlando Magic made sure that did not become an issue. Howard finished with 40 points and Orlando never trailed.
So, as you can see, the Magic have defied the odds repeatedly in the NBA regular season and throughout the NBA playoffs, from losing their All-Star point guard, to players criticizing the coach, to 32-0 records for teams leading after leading 3-2 in a seven game series, and to the NBA Conspiracy Theory of wanting a LeBron and Kobe final.
They've answered the call every other time this season. Here's to hoping they do it for four more games.
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