Note: This post serves as a general playoff preview for the Orlando Magic, not a specific look at their forthcoming series against the Indiana Pacers. It's designed for the casual NBA fan who (soundly) decided to follow other teams during the regular season. - Ed.
Team Record: 37-29, third in the Southeast Division, sixth in the Eastern Conference
How would you describe the Magic in the regular season?
Up-and-down and ultimately disappointing. The Magic had to deal with the constant drama surrounding Dwight Howard, which was supposed to end when he made the surprise decision to waive his right to become a free agent in 2012. Instead, the drama continued when coach Stan Van Gundy confirmed to the media that Howard had asked team management to fire him. And then Howard hurt his back and missed the rest of the season.
But more than the drama, Orlando just isn't as good a team as it used to be. Otis Smith's moves have robbed the Magic of their depth, and they have few players who have yet to peak.
Some lowlights: the Magic had two four-game losing streaks and one five-game losing streak in the lockout-shortened campaign; in the last four seasons before this one, they had just three four-game losing streaks total, and no five-game losing streaks. The team scored 70 points or fewer four times, and fewer than 60 on two occasions. Only one team--the Charlotte Bobcats, who set the NBA record for worst single-season win percentage--failed to reach 70 more often than the Magic did... and the Bobcats beat the Magic once.
It has not been sunshine and lollipops for the Magic.
What are Orlando's strengths? Are there any areas that concern you?
With or without Howard, the Magic are a great three-point shooting team. They're going to take a ton of threes against Indiana, and they'll make a fair amount too, at a decent clip. The real problem is that they don't have any other options, really. Without Howard, there's no back-to-basket game, and none of Orlando's ballhandlers do an especially good job of getting to the rim on a consistent basis. Despite those shortcomings, Orlando's held its own offensively minus the six-time All-Star.
But the defense? Ugh, has it ever been bad. Howard's absence means the team has only one shot-blocker, Earl Clark. Plus, Howard's injury has highlighted just how poorly the Magic contain dribble-penetration, and opponents make a concerted effort to take the ball inside knowing Howard's not there to block or alter their shots.
Containing dribble-penetration is a problem for Orlando no matter who's in the lineup. It's just an even more glaring problem without Howard.
What is your likely playoff rotation? Who is likely to see their
minutes increase? Who might fall out of the rotation completely?
Jameer Nelson will start at point guard, with Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu on the wings and Ryan Anderson and Glen Davis up front. Chris Duhon backs up Nelson at the point, Redick spells Richardson at the two, with Quentin Richardson letting Turkoglu get the occasional breather. The back-up bigs are Clark and rookie Daniel Orton.
Clark has averaged just 12.4 minutes on the season, but took on an increased role after Howard's last game, averaging 22.2 minutes. He's made the most of his increased minutes, posting 6.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocked shots during that span.
If Orlando's offense bogs down against Indiana, Van Gundy may call upon Von Wafer--the team's best shot-creator--to provide a spark. Wafer's offensive decision-making leaves a lot to be desired, as does his defense. But he can get to the basket and score in a variety of ways.
It's tough to know how well Turkoglu might play, as he's played just once since April 7th, when he took a Carmelo Anthony elbow to the face and fractured his right cheek. If he's ineffective, Van Gundy could shift Jason Richardson to small forward and play Redick for extended stretches at the two.
Who is most likely to step up their level of play? Do you have a
potential "breakout" peformer this postseason?
Anderson is going to have plenty of opportunities to break out this postseason. To be clear, I still believe Nelson holds the key to Orlando's playoff success, but he's a known commodity. In contrast to Nelson, Anderson hasn't proven himself on the playoff stage, shooting 28.8 percent from the field in 236 postseason minutes over the last two years. As the Magic's most reliable healthy scorer, it's upon him to knock down the open looks he gets and to clean up his teammates' misses with good work on the boards. Anderson is also playing for a contract, as he'll be a restricted free agent come July 1st, so there's a financial incentive for him to beast as well.
How far can you realistically see Orlando advancing in the playoffs?
Not far. For the second straight season, Orlando will fail to win a playoff series. The Magic will get their licks in against the Pacers, and could steal a game or two. But without Howard, they don't have nearly enough defense to upset an impressive, young, well-coached Pacers squad.