As I look at the Magic roster, I see many parallels to another great team: the Houston Rockets of the mid '90s.
The first and most obvious similarity begins with the dominant big man in the middle.
The Magic's Dwight Howard is arguably the best center in the game today. Like the Rockets' Olajawon, the Magic's success begins with the man in the middle.
Both teams use the Center to start the offense and surround him with as many shooters as possible. This is what is known as the, “inside-outside offense.” The ball goes into the post, cutters make their way through and shooters spot up behind the arc.
As the defense is drawn to the big man, inevitably shooters become open. A pass out of the post and strong ball movement leads to a clean look for three point shots. Both teams have proven prolific in this strategy.
The Rockets were better on the inside part of this equation, while the Magic have better shooters.
Olajawon was a much more dominant force offensively and one of the great post players of all time (anyone remember the 'dream shake')?
Howard is still more than serviceable in his role in the offense. Even when he's not getting touches, he is on the offensive glass, getting easy dunks on put-backs and drawing a crowd at all times.
The similarities continue.
At the point guard position the Magic are led by Rafer Alston and, until his injury, Jameer Nelson. Alston has taken over the reigns and provided stability and great outside shooting.
The Rockets were led by the veteran Kenny Smith and exciting young rookie Sam Cassel. They were able to run the offense and shoot from distance. Both were also adept at getting to the rim and drawing away defenders from the shooters.
The shooting guard position is incredibly similar as well.
The Magic feature the young slasher Courtney Lee and the defensive minded outside shooter Michael Pietrus.
The Rockets first had sharpshooter Vernon Maxwell. Later, they added one of the greatest offensive weapons of all time in Clyde Drexler.
At the forward positions, the Magic have Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. These are two multi-skilled, great shooting matchup nightmares for opponents. Their ability to play in the post and behind the arc, and still play adequate defense is perfect in what the Magic are trying to do.
The Rockets had similar forwards.
A young forward with an outside touch named Robert Horry took the league by storm in the playoffs and parlayed his performance into a huge paycheck two years later (before being traded to the Suns for one Charles Barkley).
They also featured unsung hero and three-point specialist Matt Bullard, who made many key shots during their championship runs (a la Turkoglu for the Magic).
This leads to the one major difference between these teams: the Head Coach. While the two coaches share the same philosophy, they go about it in very different ways.
Stan Van Gundy is an outspoken and boisterous coach who takes pressure off of his players by drawing attention to himself.
Rudy Tomjanovich was the exact opposite. He was the calm and cool voice of reason who led his players by setting an example of professionalism.
Both coaches have had success at what they do. They simply go about it in different ways.
With just over a decade between these teams, their similarities prove that the NBA is cyclical. Trends, styles and philosophies change in the short term, but over time, successful strategies are eventually recycled.
The Magic of this era and the Rockets of yesteryear are proof of this phenomenon.