A year ago at this time, the Orlando Magic had just swept through a West coast road trip which included wins over the Nuggets, Blazers, Spurs, Jazz, and Lakers that propelled them to the top record in the NBA. They had three all-stars heading to Phoenix in Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Jameer Nelson.
Then something strange happen the week leading up the All-Star game. With a torn labrum, Jameer Nelson went down against the Dallas Mavericks. Along with Jameer, most of the media sent Orlando's chances of getting anywhere down their own respective drains.
We all know what came after that. First, a trade for Rafer Alston to sure up the point guard spot Jameer left open with his injury. Second, shocking the world by beating the Celtics and dominating the Cavaliers in the playoffs.
In 2010, the Magic have already become an after-thought to the Cleveland Cavaliers. With good reason, the Cavaliers have glided to the best record in the NBA and hold about a six game lead over Orlando, who sits in the second seed in the East.
Even after an unbelievable 48 point performance by Vince Carter, much of the national basketball media is skeptical. Most of them believe Carter simply received his once a year shot in the pan performance and that he is too old to be a nightly superstar.
So where is this team right now? I think they are right where they want to be.
Unless the Magic pull off an amazing win streak in the second half of the regular season, they will likely start in the second or third spot in the playoffs. They will most likely be in a similar position to that of last year's playoffs.
Truth be told, I think the core players of the Magic play their best basketball when they are consistently being overlooked and underrated. If you look at the bulk of Orlando's players, you will find a number of overlooked and underrated players.
Rashard Lewis has always been viewed as being just not good enough to be a superstar in the NBA. Jameer Nelson has been plagued by doubters since the moment he first stepped out of his college gym in Philadelphia and onto an NBA floor.
JJ Redick, having the best season of his career, can't even buy a slot into the NBA's three point shootout. Even Dwight Howard, the NBA's best center, gets ripped on national television by halftime and announcing crews for not being as good an offensive big man as he should be.
If you want proof of the way Orlando players respond to being doubted you should look no further that the way Vince Carter has responded to being seen as a detriment and anchor to a team that performed much better last year. If you don't think every jumper that dropped against New Orleans was a moment of sweet redemption for Carter than you must be missing something.
Vince Carter knows he can still play good basketball. He is determined to help this team raise a trophy at the end of the season and I feel confident in some improved play from Carter for the rest of the year.
The fact is simply that the Magic are capable of beating any team in the league when they are playing good basketball. They are still a top five defensive team and we shouldn't even get started on the offensive side.
The Magic have enough three point shooters that they could probably fill out the three point shootout themselves and it would still be quite entertaining. Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Mickael Pietrus, JJ Redick, Jason Williams, and Ryan Anderson are all capable of dropping a ton from outside on any night.
Of course, the team could end up living or dying with their shooting, but isn't that the way they got to the finals last year. Sure, they could end up losing with a number of missed shots in the playoffs, but then again if they are on target, they are capable of shooting any team in the NBA right out of the arena.
So we will see how the team continues to respond as we approach the All Star weekend. The Magic will take on the Cavaliers Thursday night in one of the biggest games in the NBA's regular season.
It will remain to be seen whether most of the media will continue to write off the Magic down the stretch. One thing is for sure if they keep being written off, other teams should look out.