I have to admit, since the abyssmal loss to the Kings sans Tyreke Evans, the Orlando Magic have given me hope. It's easy to take for granted that the Magic have been a playoff staple for four straight seasons, and serious championship contenders the last two. And in the face of Otis Smith's constant, at times questionable tinkering with the roster, it's hard not to worry that our success will come undone. After all, how can we expect the same (or superior) results with different players year after year?
I'm still not convinced the Magic are a championship-caliber team, but I'm becoming a lot more open-minded. Here are some things I'll be watching out for in the coming weeks, things that I think could mean big things for us come April.
Note: This is all in addition to Dwight Howard's MVP-caliber play. Take that as a given.
5) Turkoglu and Arenas check out early
One thing I'm convinced will happen -- and would love to be wrong about -- is a disappearing act from Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas. Turkoglu came up big for the Magic in 2009, but the spark seems to be gone. It was a contract year for him, his last chance to pull in some big money, and he certainly did.
But he just doesn't seem to care anymore. His arrogance last night, resulting in an ejection (and SVG literally pulling him off the bench to vacate the court) seemed pretty telling. It's sad to see, as he still has the size and skill to provide a great mismatch on the wing. And he did make a gorgeous lob to Howard for an alley-oop last night.
Still, I'm not convinced he can be counted on down the stretch for much more than his average production -- which, admittedly isn't 'bad', it just isn't going to give the Magic any kind of edge.
As for Arenas, it really isn't worth talking about. He will finish the season the highest paid third string player in the history of professional sports worldwide.
Where did this guy come from? If he can maintain the intensity he showed last night for the remainder of the season, the Magic can expect to win a lot of games. Richardson played incredible defense last night on Carmelo Anthony, effectively taking him out of the game. I'm very curious to see how he plays against LeBron tomorrow night, not to mention Paul Pierce and Luol Deng.
Not to mention his scoring. Richardson was a beast scoring in the post last night (and ripped 5 boards) while knocking down a clutch 3.
He's the kind of player who can come in off the bench and wear out opposing starters (with the obvious exception of LeBron) and hit a few big shots, which is exactly what the Magic have been missing.
Can't help but wonder why we haven't seen him since December.
At times, it almost feels like Rashard Lewis never left. Last night Anderson gave Stoudemire fits on the perimeter, locking him into a steady game of pickle between him on the perimeter and Howard on the low block. If Turkoglu steps up, these two could seemingly fill the roles Turkoglu and Lewis did in 2009. Considering Howard's offensive evolution, it stands to reason that this strategy would pay off huge.
The best part is, Anderson is just 22 years old. He's still developing as a player, getting stronger inside, boxing out. He's quickly turning into a special player, and I'm interested to see what he's capable of with a bigger role in the playoffs.
Will he reclaim the starting role from Bass?
Side Note: I'm not really sure how Bass fits in. He's way undersized to play center, or to provide much real help to Howard inside. His best game is the mid-range jumper, which doesn't really fit into the 4 out/1 in scheme. If it were up to me I'd start Anderson and bring Bass in off the bench to score some points. Last night he only took three shots, one of which was a tip-in dunk.
This is a guy whom Mark Cuban called the "best midrange shooter in the NBA". Why not take better advantage of his best asset?
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Do not count out Jason Richardson. He's only 29 years old, and just last year he frequently outscored Amare Stoudemire to keep the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs.
If you need a little boost in confidence, check out these highlights from Richardson's 42 point outing against the Trailblazers in round 1. He shot 13/19, including 8/12 from 3.
Despite what we've seen from him so far, it would be foolish to assume he somehow lost his scoring talent. If there is a "sleeping giant" on the Orlando Magic, it's Jason Richardson. I can't wait to see what he does come playoff time.
Last night we finally saw the All Star point guard the Magic have missed since 2009. What can we expect from him down the stretch? Obviously his quickness off the dribble won't have the same impact against Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo that it did last night against Old Man Billups. But ever since his days at St. Joseph's, Jameer Nelson has been a scorer first, a game manager second.
In 2009 he found a balance in Orlando, running the offense efficiently while finding his shot. Last night he was all scorer, but it was nice to see someone in a Magic uniform take over a game in the clutch. How long has it been since we've seen that?
I wan't to believe last night was the beginning of Nelson's return to All Star form. In addition to his explosive scoring, I'd like to see him tighten up the pick and roll game with Howard. That could be downright scary.
Another thing to keep an eye on: I think we all heard the collective cry of horror from Magic fans when Nelson came down on Billups' ankle. It seems like every time he gets it going he ends up hurt. Can he stay healthy the remainder of this year? Can he finish strong?