Lots to get to today.
John Hollinger has seen enough of the Magic to assert that they are indeed elite:
The Orlando Magic have no history of playoff success, and don't have one of the uber-stars like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James (no disrespect to Dwight Howard). They only have one perennial All-Star on the roster. Their guard play can be spotty, they don't always play well with leads and their best player can't make foul shots and is prone to turnovers.
Yet after this weekend, it's impossible to ignore the reality any longer: The Magic are legitimate championship contenders.
High praise from one of the game's noted statisticians and thinkers.
Jameer Nelson is currently the front-page story on the NBA page Sports Illustrated's website; here's a screengrab for posterity. The headline? "EXCLAMATION POINT". Paul Forrester's story is well worth the read. Here's an excerpt:
"Every offseason I try to get with a shooting coach and concentrate on my form. But last summer I wanted to try it by myself," said Nelson, who shot 45.7 percent from the field in his first four seasons.
"I tried to make 1,000 shots a day and stuck with a routine one of my old college coaches, [former St. Joe's assistant] Matt Brady, gave me two summers ago. I also tried to incorporate some things to help me use my left hand a little better. It's working out right now."
Yeah, I'll say. Meanwhile, here's an insightful quote from Nelson about his personality:
"Over the last year, I was trying to make myself into a guy who sets the team up and does things the right way as a point guard, but from an individual standpoint, that wasn't working. So I went back to being aggressive and taking shots through our offense. I never try to force anything, but at the same time, I'm trying to put pressure on the defense at all times."
Last year, his saying that would have caused an uproar in some Magic fan communities ("ZOMG HE'S A SHOOT-FIRST POINT GUARD!!!1") but now it's like, dude, just keep doing your thing. Because it's working.
Stan Van Gundy is on the record as saying that Courtney Lee is this team's starting shooting guard. From Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel:
"We're planning on right now that Courtney's our starter," said Van Gundy. "I never say never to making changes anywhere, but right now it's not going to be an in-or-out thing. That's the way we're going to go right now.
"J.J.'s playing well. He'll be the first guard off the bench. And we'll go from there."
I wonder what happens to J.J. and Keith Bogans when Mickael Pietrus returns from injury. Right now, my guess is Bogans will fall even further out of the rotation, and maybe even find himself on a plane out of town as part of a trade near the deadline, which is February 19th.
Interesting trade-related note from Truth&Rumors:
The Magic have been a constant in NBA rumors circles, namely because the team is very thin at the point guard position. The Magic have been rumored to have entertained trades involving forward Brian Cook and fan favorite J.J. Redick, both player [sic] played extended minutes last night and shot the ball very well from outside.
The constant roadblock to a deal according to sources near the Magic is the commitment to the team's unique chemistry.
The way J.J. is shooting right now, it wouldn't make sense to part with him, especially with Bogans' season-long struggle and Pietrus' fragility. Cook isn't an integral part of this team on the court, and I don't get the sense he's much of a locker-room presence either. If Otis Smith gets the chance to swing him for a serviceable backup point guard, even a rental, he should do it. Anthony Johnson is just not cutting it as a backup. Were it not for Jameer Nelson's breakout season, we'd all be clamoring for Carlos Arroyo to return from Israel, where he's playing professionally these days.
Dwight Howard was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after leading the Magic to a 4-0 record, um, last week.