Orlando Magic Top LA Lakers: Can the Magic Compete in the East?

Chris LeydenCorrespondent IIFebruary 15, 2011

Orlando Magic Top LA Lakers: Can the Magic Compete in the East?

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    On Sunday the Orlando Magic downed the Los Angeles Lakers 89-75.

    The Magic looked like every bit of the 2009 team that went to the NBA Finals, and proved to the NBA that they are still a contender not only in the East but for this year's championship.

    The problem with the Magic is that while at times they have looked this good, other times they have struggled to beat even the worst teams in the league.

    This slideshow includes five reasons Orlando can stick with the big boys in the East, and five reasons they can't. The final slide is a verdict on where we will see the Magic come playoff time.

    Feel free to comment below on where you think the Magic will be in June, and if the Celtics and Heat have something to fear.

Contender: Dwight Howard

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    Dwight Howard is not only one of the best players in the league right now, but he also seems to be in the prime of his career.

    Howard is currently averaging 22.6 points per game and 13.9 rebounds per game, putting him in 12th and second place, respectively, in the league. 

    Howard has shown off his freakish jumping skills in multiple dunk contests, and is a favorable matchup no matter who is guarding him.

    He shot 13-16 against the Lakers on Sunday, and scored 31 points to go along with his 13 rebounds.

    Howard will need to stay healthy and keep playing at this level of success down the home stretch if the Magic are to compete for the Eastern Conference Championship.

Pretender: Division-Leading Miami Heat

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    Although the biggest roadblock in the way of the Orlando Magic winning the East is the Boston Celtics, there is a team much closer that poses much more serious of a threat right now.

    The Miami Heat may have problems after their three big stars, but those problems have not held them back enough to stop them from leading the Southeast Division.

    The Magic currently sit five games behind the Heat in a tie with the Atlanta Hawks for second place.

    Although no one is worried about the Hawks winning the division, the Magic are going to have a tough time surpassing the Heat.

    Orlando has won five more games at home than on the road in the same amount of attempts. In the playoffs, that makes all the difference.

    The Magic need a higher seed come playoff time to secure home-court advantage, and right now the Heat are in their way of obtaining that.

Contender: Return of Brandon Bass

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    The Magic had been without starting power forward Brandon Bass for six games prior to his return against the Lakers.

    Bass has really had a breakout year for the Magic, and for the first time in his career is averaging double digit points and over five rebounds per game.

    Bass had been crucial to the Magic's success, as he has managed to shoot less but score more in wins this year.

    The Magic will need Bass to be healthy and play at the level he has so far if they want to contend.

Pretender: Playoff Experience

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    The Magic may have made it to the NBA Finals two years ago, but they still lack the experience most of the players on a team like the Boston Celtics have.

    The Magic are mostly made up of young up-and-coming players who have only been in the league for a few years.

    This may hurt the Magic down the stretch, when the bright lights become even brighter as the playoffs begin.

    Orlando's experience will help them beat some teams, but it could come back to hurt them against others.

Contender: Jameer Nelson

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    Jameer Nelson may have had a disappointing past few games, but he will be crucial to a Magic second-half-of-the-season push.

    Nelson is currently on pace to average a career high in assists, and will need to dish out the ball for baskets at the same rate if for the Magic to fight for the East crown.

    Nelson has also shown the capability to have a monster game, and could be a good spark on nights when other Magic players are off their game.

    The quarterback of the offense, Nelson will be crucial to driving the Magic through the remainder of the season and into the playoffs.

Pretender: Trades

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    Last week there was some talk of Dwight Howard being traded, but this slide is more involved with something that is completely out of the Magic's control.

    If the New York Knicks were to complete a trade for Carmelo Anthony without giving up too much in return, they would instantly become a big threat in the East.

    The Knicks may look like a beatable playoff opponent right now, but Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony side-by-side makes the Knicks just as likely to score in bunches as the Heat.

    The Magic may have another roadblock in their way that no one even knows about yet, and not until the trade deadline passes can they feel comfortable about the Knicks.

Contender: Big Men Who Can Shoot

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    One of the Magic's biggest strengths is that they have two players who stand 6'10" and can knock down the three-ball.

    Hedo Turkoglu is making about a three-pointer and a half every game as part of the 10 points he scores a game.

    Ryan Anderson is averaging two three-pointers a game as part of his 11 points per game.

    Both of these big men help to clear out space down low for Dwight Howard because they force the defense to cover them on the perimeter.

    If both of these guys can get it going late in the season, the Magic will receive a much-needed boost.

Pretender: Consistency

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    The Magic have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the league of late, and are 5-5 over their last 10.

    The Magic may have beat the Lakers on Sunday, but on Friday they were very sloppy in a loss to the New Orleans Hornets.

    Some of the best teams in the eastern half of the league have been able to beat the Magic of late, including the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat.

    If the Magic want to beat these teams and contend for an NBA Championship, they are going to have to figure out why they cannot win against them right now.

    There is still time for the Magic to get into champion form, but not as much as they may think they have.

Contender: Gilbert Arenas Is the X-Factor

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    Everyone still remembers the Gilbert Arenas that averaged 29 and 28 points in back-to-back seasons in the mid-2000s.

    Although it seems unlikely that Arenas will be back to this form, he will be the Magic's X-factor when the season is down to the wire.

    Arenas is a great scorer when his shot is on, and just a body on the floor when it is not.

    If Arenas can start scoring anywhere near at the rate he did in the past, the Magic will be in for a pleasant surprise.

    If not, the Magic may be in more trouble than they think.

Pretender: Dwight Howard

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Yes, I know I put the first slide as Dwight Howard being a reason the Magic will be a contender, but I also think he could just as easily make them a pretender.

    The team goes as Howard does, and without him is nothing more than a mediocre NBA team.

    Although an injury would severely hurt the Magic's chances of contending, even if Howard's production simply drops by a few points and rebounds, the Magic are in trouble.

    The Magic need to have Howard involved in every game if they want a chance at the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Verdict: Contender or Pretender?

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    When I gaze into the crystal ball of the NBA future, I see the Magic being one of the scariest teams if I'm an Eastern Conference coach.

    With the fact that Dwight Howard is nearly impossible to stop and with the role players this team has who could score 20 at any moment, the Magic are a scary group to face.

    I'm not so sure I see them winning the Eastern Conference, but they could very easily upset the Celtics and do that.

    The Magic will get their consistency problems fixed soon and return to the team fans have come to know.