What is it about the Magic? It is their history, with the departure of Shaquille O'Neal back in 1996, the Finals defeat, and the injury plagues of Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill or just bias against a small town team (in basketball terms).
Either way, almost every major sportswriter has been down on the Magic this season. First they didn't have a good enough backcourt or point guard. Jameer Nelson became an All-Star. Then it was that they were good, but only because they played in a weak division in the weaker conference.
Next, it was that they were genuinely a good team, but not among the elite of the NBA. Then Dwight Howard was too nice and not passionate enough to lead the Magic in the playoffs. And of course, all season, it's been that their three point shooting was too good to last and wouldn't stand up in the playoffs.
Victories over the Celtics and Cavaliers have finally earned the Magic some respect, but they are still expected by most to lose to the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Even President Obama has the Lakers winning in six.
All this has been despite the Magic being in the top five all season in both offensive and defensive efficiency, being led by a double-double machine in Howard and sweeping the Lakers in the NBA season.
Now, I'm a Magic fan, and when reading the Orlando Sentinel in December, I though it was just a nice dream for one of the writers to suggest the Magic could finish with a top two seed in the east. When Jameer Nelson went down it seemed all but certain. In the end though, the Magic battled back, but still didn't earn the respect they deserved.
I still feel that the Magic will lose to the Lakers. It is their first trip, they have less experience, depth, and veteran leadership. But this is no pretender, the Magic are for real and its high time the league realized this. If they re-sign Hedo Turkoglu and remain injury free this summer, they should be pre-season title favorites next season regardless of what happens against the Lakers.
Having finals experience, another season of development for Courtney Lee, Jameer Nelson, and Dwight Howard, and a bolstered sense of confidence, the Magic would be the team to beat. Especially if Superman can keep hitting 70 percent plus of his free throws. What would stop Howard then?
Next season, it will be hard for any sportswriter to discount the Magic, but it should have been increasingly difficult down the stretch this season. The stretch run didn't lead to less criticism however, but more, and it reached a crescendo after Howard called out his coach, asking for more touches against the Celtics.
Once again Orlando rallied, as they have so many times this season against top teams. The Magic might not win the finals this year. In fact, regardless of their regular season, they probably won't. But they will give the Lakers a run for their money far greater than Cleveland would have.
Or maybe they will win. Maybe their regular season and playoff performance does prove that they can and will win. Maybe I'm still not giving the Magic enough credit. They've answered every other criticism this season, but none of it will matter if they can't win in Los Angeles, on the NBA's biggest stage. If they lose, they'll have to prove themselves again next year. They shouldn't have to, but they will. If they lose.