Orlando Magic: Sleeper Team in the East?

Justin MorganCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2008

At 22-6, the Orlando Magic are off to their best start in franchise history. It's just too bad that they are up against the Celtics and Cavaliers in the East.

Jameer Nelson is having a breakout year so far. He's averaging 17.0 points and 5.4 assists per game. If he can keep playing at this level, he might be in line for a Most Improved Player Award. Aside from his improving stats, he seems to be taking on more of a leadership role on this team.

The Magic are 9-1 in their last 10 games, all against the Western Conference. In that stretch they have beaten four quality teams in Portland, Utah, San Antonio, and the LA Lakers. Wins against New Orleans on Christmas and Minnesota on Saturday would cap off a nice 12-game stretch against the Western Conference.

Forgetting about the fact that they have to contend with Cleveland and Boston, I do have other concerns with this team. Dwight Howard seems to be playing at the same level he's been playing at for the past couple of years. If they want to surpass the Cavs and dethrone the champs, he needs to show some improvement in is game.

I'm also a little disappointed in Hedo Turkoglu. Shooting 38 percent from them field means that his shot selection isn't so good. He needs to take better shots and improve his percentage from behind the arc. Right now it’s at 31 percent.

On a brighter note, Rashard Lewis is playing well, and although he is only averaging 5.7 points per game, rookie Courtney Lee is shooting 48 percent from the field and 44 percent from behind the arc.

The Magic are a good team and may be under-appreciated playing the third wheel in a tough Eastern Conference. However, they have a chance next month to show just how good they are. Orlando has a tough January playing Miami twice, Atlanta twice, San Antonio, La Lakers, Denver, Boston, and Cleveland.

If they play well, they might turn a two-team race in the East into a three-team race.