The Orlando Magic are in the NBA Finals.
The Orlando Magic are in the NBA Finals.
What you are hearing are echoes from past AC articles chronicling, detailing, and yes, predicting big success for the 2008-09 Orlando Magic. Echo, echo.
The Orlando Magic Surprising Regular Season
Back in January when the Magic held the best record in the league, I wrote Surprise: Look What NBA Team Sports the Best Record. In that article I built the case that the Magic possessed a legitimate opportunity to succeed in the postseason because: 1) they were beating the best teams in the regular season 2) they played good team defense 3) they had All-Star quality players in Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, and Jameer Nelson and 4) their center was a young man named Dwight Howard.
All nice points coming from a guy who was cut from his basketball team in the eleventh grade.
December Prediction: Road to NBA Finals Goes Through Orlando
More impressively, a month earlier, in December (that was so last year) I made the contention that the Road to the NBA Finals Goes through Orlando. If you want to heap lots of praise on me, click on that link, read that article, and heap.
The “Road through Orlando” article set out to prove these tenets: 1) one third of the way into the season, the Magic were legitimate championship contenders 2) Dwight Howard was a force to be reckoned with 3) the Magic were a deep enough team to go deeply into the postseason and 4) Cleveland, Boston, and Los Angeles needed to move over in the headlines.
My main point was that if the Celtics, Cavaliers, and Lakers wanted to win an NBA Championship in 2009, they would have to go through Orlando, Florida to do so.
Sorry, Mom, I try to be humble most of the time.
Orlando Magic Players and Organization Achieve Success
Now that we are in June and on the eve of the 2009 NBA Finals, let’s have a look to see what has happened since those December and January statements of marvelous Magical portent.
Orlando lost All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson to a season ending injury. The hopes of Magic fans for a successful season were torn along with Nelson’s labrum. Fortunately, Magic fortune rests not on fan’s shoulders, but on the players, Coach Stan Van Gundy, GM Otis Smith, President Bob Vander Weide, and Amway renowned and Magic owner Rich DeVos. Smith got on the phone and traded for beleaguered point guard Rafer Alston, the best, and now obviously, most impactful trade deadline move in the entire league.
Shooting guard rookie Courtney Lee came into his own as a defensive stopper and reliable scorer. Rashard Lewis proceeded to lead the league in three point shots. Turkish star Hedo Turkoglu made big shots during big games. The Magic bench led by veteran Anthony Johnson and the Polish Hammer Marcin Gortat played well enough to hold and at times extend the leads handed to them.
Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy Beats Master of Panic Rap to Garner League-wide Praise
Coach Stan Van Gundy prevented the Magic players from celebrating too early (remember all those antics the Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, carried out during their pregame warm-ups?), promising them postseason success if they kept working tirelessly. Van Gundy maintained that the games would we won on the court rather than in the media (remember the season long media bias towards the Boston Celtics?). Van Gundy’s mad methods won out, changing the perception others had of him from Master of Panic to one of the NBA’s best.
Dwight Howard Leads Magic to Number Three Seed in East
Dwight Howard continued to dominate the lane on both ends of the court on the way to winning Defensive Player of the Year. But the Magic could not pass up Boston or Cleveland for home court advantage, leaving most fans, writers, and media types to look past the Magic.
Magic Find Playoff Success, Beat Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers
Orlando defeated the Philadelphia 76’ers in the opening round, setting up a second round series against home court advantaged but Kevin Garnett-less Boston. Now most people would say that had Garnett played, the Magic would not have beaten Boston, as they did, 4 games to 2. That may be true, but it is irrelevant. The Magic still beat Boston with the players available to both teams. Hey, the Magic were without All-Star Jameer Nelson. If Nelson wasn’t hurt back in February, when the Magic were the hottest team in the league and near the top of the standings, maybe they would have received home court advantage throughout the playoffs. And hey, if Grant Hill’s injury problems hadn’t happened….you get the point. But that too is irrelevant.
That victory placed the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1995. They took a huge step of maturity, beating the defending champions, advancing another round, and gaining more playoff experience. No one expected them to keep rolling against Cleveland, except for anyone who was actually paying attention.
The Magic played very well against Cleveland during the regular season, winning 2 of 3 games, including a 29 point victory, a game that had the Magic ahead by 40 points in the third quarter. The Magic had also beaten Cleveland more often than not the past three years, demonstrating that they gave serious matchup problems to the Cavaliers.
As the rest of the sports world unthinkingly handed the series victory to the Cavaliers, Charles Barkley and this writer thought the Magic would conquer King James (I predicted the Magic in 6 games). Even MAE (Mister All Everything) LeBron James could not prevent the Magic from defeating Cleveland 4 games to 2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
So the Orlando Magic have beaten Boston and Cleveland on the road to the NBA Finals.
Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant Meet Magic in Finals
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers and star guard Kobe Bryant continued their own impressive march to the 2009 Finals, gaining the #1 seed in the Western Conference and disposing of every challenger, most recently the highly touted Denver Nuggets.
Magic Will Make Magic For Years to Come
It’s now a two team battle. Everyone predicted that the Lakers would be here. A few of us thought that the Magic might be as well.
But what is truly important is that the Magic have had a great season. No one will remember who predicted what, but the Magic will go down as having played in the 2009 NBA Finals.
I’ll also go on record now to suggest that we’ll see Dwight Howard and his Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals in upcoming seasons, a theme resounding for years to come.
Check out my basketball column at BasketballDailyNews.com.
All stats courtesy of CBSSports.com.