If you were to judge who is the best team in the Eastern Conference based on record alone, the Orlando Magic would not win. The Boston Celtics (35-10), Miami Heat (31-14), and Chicago Bulls (31-14) each have slightly better overall records than the Magic.
However, Orlando is not the same team that it was when it started the season. The Magic have given their lineup a makeover and a needed boost by welcoming Hedo Turkoglu, Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson while parting ways with Mickael Pietrus, Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter.
Since the trade, Orlando has looked like an entirely different team and I would even dare to argue that the Magic are worth as being labeled the best team in the Eastern Conference. Therefore, I have compiled a list of 10 reasons why the Orlando Magic deserve such a label.
The Orlando Magic's starting lineup is one of the most talented, well-rounded bunches in the NBA. Their ability to attack opposing teams from a variety of angles it makes them a very dangerous and potent club.
- Jameer Nelson has blossomed and matured to become a relatively solid point guard for the Magic. His quickness and ball-handling abilities allow him to drive the lane and finish at the rim with ease. In recent seasons, Nelson has improved his passing game, which allows him to find teammates like Dwight Howard and Jason Richardson on the receiving end of alley-oop passes while averaging an entire assist more per game than he did a season ago.
- Jason Richardson was acquired from the Phoenix Suns to replace Vince Carter. Richardson is younger than the departed Carter, and still possesses the ability to go up and finish with electric dunks and alley-oops on fast breaks, which seemed to be a fading facet of Carter's game. Also, his ability to shoot from behind the arch makes Richardson a valuable asset to the Magic, especially in situations when the Magic are forced to come from behind.
- Hedo Turkoglu was a fan favorite when he played for the Magic two seasons ago and therefore it's no surprise that they readily welcomed him back when he was acquired via trade in December. Though he's not averaging the 16.8 points per game he did for Orlando back in the 2008-2009 season, his 11.7 points, 5.8 assists, and efficient shooting abilities have been solid enough to help the Magic prosper since his arrival.
- After Rashard Lewis proved to a bit of a disappointment for the Magic this season, Brandon Bass has emerged and taken on a much larger role for the club. Bass has developed his talents and is now playing more minutes per game than he ever has before; consequently, his output in terms of scoring and rebounding has increased.
- Dwight Howard always impresses me. He has averaged a double-double each year of his career in the NBA. This season, Howard is averaging more points per game (22) than he has ever before and has the highest point production of any center in the NBA. Howard's size and presence makes him an elite rebounder and shot blocker, which have helped him become one of the best centers in the league.
To accompany a well-rounded and talented starting five, the Orlando Magic have collected a rather skilled bench to fill in when their starters need a rest. Stan Van Gundy has the luxury to call on talent like J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson and Gilbert Arenas off of the bench to help give his team an extra boost.
The three-point shooting of Redick and Anderson make them very potent weapons for the Magic to unload during a game. Both Redick and Anderson are capable of knocking down open threes with relative ease.
It is not unheard of for either to knock down four three-pointers on their way to scoring 20 or more points off of the bench in a given contest.
Arenas has only one 20-point game and one double-double since arriving in Orlando. Arenas' experience and talent give the Orlando Magic a reliable point guard to call on when Jameer Nelson needs a rest, but he has offered very few jaw-dropping performances as a member of the team.
Orlando's depth grants them the ability to remain productive while their stars rest up on the bench. Also, the high productivity off of the bench give the Magic the means to hurt opposing teams in a variety of ways, making them even more dangerous.
The ability to shoot the three ball makes the Orlando Magic a particularly dangerous team. The Magic are studded with talented three-point shooters like Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, J.J. Redick, and Hedo Turkoglu, each of whom are capable of making it rain down threes on any given night.
As a team, the Magic average 9.5 threes per contest, which is the most of any team in the NBA. However, Orlando does not just make a lot of threes, they also do so rather efficiently, as their .375 field goal percentage from beyond the arch is one of the highest in the East.
With their ability to knock down a barrage of threes, the Magic are capable of making up deficits and putting teams away with relative ease when things go their way.
The Magic have been known for their stingy defense in recent years, and this year is no different. They allow 94.6 points per game which is in the top five of all Eastern Conference teams and the seventh-best allowance of points per game in the NBA.
In addition to having one of the best overall defenses in the NBA, the Magic also showcase one of the leagues finest shot blockers and rebounders in Dwight Howard.
His size and strength make him one of the most dominant defenders in the game, especially in regards to protecting the basket. This season alone, Howard is averaging 2.23 blocks per game, which is fifth-best in the NBA and his 13.4 boards per game is second to only Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
With Howard providing a solid anchor on the interior and experienced defenders like Richardson and Turkoglu on the perimeter, the Magic have the ability to defend nearly any offense in the NBA.
Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard both entered the NBA in the 2004-2005 season and have just begun on their seventh season together as members of the Magic.
The duo has been to the playoffs for the past four of those years, including a run to the finals in 2009 (which Nelson missed the majority of due to injury).
As a pair, the twosome has matured and developed chemistry as the Magic organization has acquired other well-equipped and experienced players to play alongside them.
This season, Orlando traded away over 24 years of NBA experience when the team got rid of veterans Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter.
In return for their seasoned veterans, the Magic received Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson who are both younger than the departing Carter and Lewis but also have playoff experience as well.
The addition of Hedo Turkoglu also provided a veteran who knows the Orlando Magic system and played a large part in Orlando's 2009 Finals run.
The Magic have youth and experience. They have a solid set of core players who know the game and know how to play it well, which has been which has been a big part of their success this season.
After struggling in the early portions of this season, the Orlando Magic traded away Rashard Lewis, Mickael Pietrus and Vince Carter, in exchange for Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu.
Since the trade on Dec. 18, the Magic have gone an impressive 14-6, as opposed to their 16-10 record before the trade. They have increased their winning percentage from.615 before the trade, to .700 after.
Both the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics are 14-6 in their last 20 games and the Chicago Bulls are only slightly better at 15-5.
The trade allowed the Magic to trade off some veteran assets who had served the Magic franchise well in years prior for some younger and alternative talent who have allowed the Magic to contend with the other elite teams in the East.
The Orlando Magic have the talent that it takes to both hang with and beat the most talented teams in the Eastern Conference and this season, they have proven it.
They have beaten the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat, the New York Knicks, the Chicago Bulls, and the Atlanta Hawks, who are probably among Orlando's stiffest competition in the Eastern Conference this season.
That being said, they have also lost to Atlanta, Miami, and Boston this season. However, the fact that the Magic have beaten the elite clubs in the East illustrates that they are capable of doing so again.
If the Magic are going to become the Eastern Conference Champions, they will likely have either beat Boston, Miami, or Chicago all over again.
The Magic opened their new $480 million Amway Arena this season and have played some mighty fine basketball inside of it, but they don't appear to mind playing on the road, either. Orlando has won 13 of their 23 road games this season, which is the third-best road record in the East.
Jason Richardson, Dwight Howard, and Hedo Turkoglu each step their game up for road performances and average at least two more points on the road than they do at home.
In fact, in both games where Howard managed to score his season-high 39 points, the Magic were the away team.
When a team possesses road warriors like Howard, Richardson and Turkoglu, it makes them more difficult to take them down, even when you have the home crowd behind you.
The Orlando Magic came very close to winning their first NBA Championship in the 2008-2009 season when they lost in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. However, dreams of a title still remain dear to at least one member of Orlando's team, Dwight Howard.
In an interview with Marc Stein, Howard said he believed this Orlando Magic team is capable of earning themselves a title but hinted that he may be shopping for other suitors in 2012 if this team cannot produce.
Howard mentioned that "The only thing that's going to keep me happy is winning...winning a championship. I always have to do what's best for me at the end of the day. [But] like I said, I'd love to finish my career in Orlando."
Perhaps Howard was attempting to lend the Magic some extra motivation to be the best team in the East in order to keep him as the team's centerpiece for years to come.
He is indeed Superman, at least to the present day Orlando Magic franchise. Howard's size makes him an intimidating presence on defense, but knowing that he is capable of flying trough the air to reject shots makes him an extraordinary menace for opposing offenses.
Likewise, Howard has used his offensive talents to dazzle the Orlando faithful and basketball fans alike with his spectacular dunks, put-backs and finishes on alley-oops.
Since his arrival in the NBA in 2004, Dwight Howard has averaged a double-double in every season in his career. This season he continued his reign of excellence by leading NBA centers in points per game with 22.
Howard will also tack on about 13 boards to accompany his pocket full of points, stacking up double-doubles almost nightly.
In addition to his production, Howard has held his team together in times of desperation and need. After the Magic struggled to keep their team together after trading Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis in December, Dwight delivered by picking up three 20-plus rebound games and recorded 26-point efforts in two of them.
While his team tried to adjust to the new lineup and develop chemistry, Howard put up some big performances to try help his team at a time when they needed it most.
At many points this season, Howard has proven to be the hunger that drives Orlando forward in a positive direction and also the glue that keeps glue that keeps the team together and competitive as well.
The Magic drafted Dwight Howard to play center for their organization but since he has become a dominant force in the NBA as well as their centerpiece. He is big in both stature and significance to the Orlando Magic, and he has played a big role in why this year's Orlando team is so great.