With a 22-6 record, the Orlando Magic are off on a spectacular season. They are having a record year for their franchise, and actually look like legitimate contenders this season. The team is playing extremely well.
Their star player is, of course, Dwight Howard. Howard has not disappointed so far: With a stat line of 20.3 points, 13.9 boards, 3.7 blocks, 56 percent FG shooting, three fouls and 2.7 turnovers per game, he is finally looking like the dominant big man many predicted he would become. Offensively, Howard is finally developing a repertoire, adding a jump-hook and turnaround shot to his fearsome arsenal of dunks.
Defensively, he remains the presence he always has been, as one of the best defensive players in the league today. With nearly 14 rebounds and four blocks a game, it is easy to see just how well Howard enforces the paint. His man-to-man defense is solid, and he is becoming an excellent weak-side defender. Once Howard starts hitting free throws on a regular basis, look out. He will truly be unstoppable.
Of course, the rest of the team is doing well, too. Jameer Nelson is finally having a breakout season: 17 points, 5.4 assists, nice shooting and excellent leadership. Nelson is performing admirably, and is rising on the premier point guard list. He has done a marvelous job at point guard, guiding the offense as smoothly as I've ever seen. His leadership must continue to blossom with Dwight Howard's for Orlando to continue to improve.
Their wings, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkaglou, are also playing at high levels. Each is putting up nice numbers, contributing 16-19 points, 5-6 rebounds and 2-4 assists apiece. They are continuing their dead eye shooting and are great at spacing the court to allow Howard and Nelson room to operate. Their defense has also been above standard norms, as neither is getting completely burned. And when the game is on the line, one of the two is going to take that big shot.
Orlando's bench/role players are both solid and deep. Anthony Johnson has done a good job of running the show when Jameer Nelson is on the bench, Tony Battie allows Dwight Howard to take a breather, and Mickael Pietrus has established himself as their perimeter stopper. Toss in young guys like Courtney Lee, Brian Cook, and Keith Bogans, and you get a nice second unit.
I'm a big fan of Stan Van Gundy, he has done an amazing job as head coach and is one of the top-10 coaches in the league. He has directed the offense beautifully, and has incorporated Howard, Nelson, Lewis, and Turkoglu equally and ensured that there is no ill will over who's getting the shots. Defensively, this team is solid and can hold their own when the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers come to Arnway Arena.
The only problem I have with the Magic involves their big guys. Their starting lineup usually consists of this: Nelson, Pietrus, Turkoglu, Lewis, and Howard. While having Lewis play power forward does provide some advantages (like big guys having to close him out when he's on the perimeter), it also provides a ton of weaknesses. For example, when Orlando plays the Toronto Raptors, Howard is going to have to guard Jermaine O'Neal instead of Chris Bosh. Why? Because if Lewis guarded O'Neal, he would get eaten alive. So, Bosh ends up eating Lewis up, and can score anytime he wants to.
The same thing happens with the Boston Celtics. Howard must guard Kendrick Perkins and not Kevin Garnett because Perkins would dominate Rashard Lewis. So, Garnett is free to go off against Lewis. I'd like either Lewis or Turkoglu, it doesn't matter which, to go to the bench so that they play small forward (and occasionally power forward). Having one of those guys in the second unit gives the bench even more offensive punch.
Overall, however, this team looks poised for a long run in the playoffs. While they may not beat the Celtics or Cavaliers, I think they have given themselves a chance to do it, and are certainly a better team then they used to be. Look for the Magic to be one of the last teams standing when it's all said and done.
I'd love to hear your opinions, let me know what you think.