Orlando Magic just keeps winning
The Orlando Magic relish their underdog status--whether or not any team coming off an NBA Finals appearance can possibly consider itself an underdog is up for debate--and tend to not get as much respect as Boston, Cleveland, or the L.A. Lakers; I refer you to the third bullet in this post for Eddy's refresher. So when Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times headlines his weekly NBA column with a positive spin on the Magic, it's news.
Little noted among their "controversies," they have something special beneath [Stan] Van Gundy's lapses in nurturing: the best inside-outside game since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.
[Dwight] Howard is the game's hardest matchup, so quick at 6-11, 260 that he often puts the other center on the bench with two fouls in three possessions.
There's no Kobe, but the Lakers never had seven players making 34% of their threes, with four over 40% ([Jameer] Nelson, Jason Williams, Mickael Pietrus, J.J. Redick).
There's plenty more to enjoy at the link.
The 25 Biggest Playoff Series Upsets, 1991-2009
Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference attempts to calculate the most surprising playoff upsets since 1991, using a combination of Statistical Plus-Minus and Simple Rating. The data show that the Magic should have been heavily favored--the stats gave 'em a 77.5% chance of winning!--in the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals against Detroit, yet the Pistons took the series in five games. Happier news to Magic fans is where their upset of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals ranks.
Throwing cash into the stands
Matt Barnes' recent $20,000 fine for throwing the game ball into the Amway Arena seats after the Magic's 99-98 loss to the Miami Heat two weeks ago prompted Van Gundy to wonder if Barnes would have been better off tossing money instead. Ian Ayres of The New York Times examines the possibility in greater detail.
Actually throwing money into the stands might cause a riot. But you could imagine a team keeping some cash on hand at courtside to let players, who were about to commit a finable offense, bypass the NBA middleman and give the fine directly to some designated recipient. Instead of throwing a ball into the stands, Barnes could have ceremonially and publicly deposited cash into a courtside forfeiture drawer — with the money going to charity or to rebate part of the ticket prices.
Hat tip: TrueHoop
Most Improved NBA Player by Division
Jack Jensen of Dime Magazine names Williams the most improved player in the entire Southeast Division; Miami's Michael Beasley is the runner-up.
Jason Williams, Orlando Magic.
The Southeast division was the toughest for me to decide on—post below if you have a case for a guy—and Williams popped into my mind. Not because he has made the most improvement from his last season in the League, but because he has been just as surprising a find as anyone in the NBA this year. If only the NBA still had a Comeback POY award, White Chocolate would have to be near the top of the list. Williams is the Birdman of last year (Minus the two-year drug ban), after choosing to sit and utilize his League Pass subscription instead of playing during the 2008-09 season.
I don't believe any serious Most Improved Player discussion can omit Atlanta forward Josh Smith, who's a virtual lock for the All-Star game if he continues to play this well. Nonetheless, it's nice to see Williams get recognized for what's been a pleasantly surprising season.
Denton: Nelson Still the Starter
UPDATE: In news that should surprise no one, Van Gundy said Monday that Nelson will start at point guard once he's able to return from the knee injury that's sidelined him for the last three weeks. Williams will re-assume his backup role, and Anthony Johnson will play mop-up minutes.
Notes on two former Magic players after the jump.
Tom Haberstroh of HoopData looks at O'Neal's effect on the Cavaliers' defense.
Shaq spends more time on the bench in Cleveland so his effect on the team’s numbers should be muffled somewhat. Nevertheless, the Cavaliers have allowed about two fewer shots around the basket per game this season and their opponent field goal percentage in this zone has dipped from .577 to a league-low .550. Shaq may not offer much on the offensive end anymore but he still does a great impression of a wall.
Kelly Dwyer says Courtney Lee might not be as great as some people make him out to be.
Also, I don't want to pick on the guy, but games like these are why people have to slow down regarding Courtney Lee. He played almost 40 minutes, and had his chances, but scored just four points while taking only five shots. Four turnovers, three assists, and five rebounds. The guy had a 10.7 PER last year at age 23, and was 24 entering this season. He's old, for a second year player, and hardly setting the world on fire (yes, I'm aware of the injuries).
This isn't to say he won't be a good rotation player and sometimes starter provided the situation is right, but this isn't the future borderline All-Star some TV guys would have you believe.
In the interest of equal time, here's Sebastian Pruiti's argument from last week that Lee has improved since last season, despite poor shooting percentages at the start of this season.