NBA Season Preview: Where’s the love for Orlando?

September 29, 2009

carterby Jack Maidment

Vince Carter for Hedo Turkoglu? 6 years ago this would have been the ultimate no brainer, like asking a wrestling fan to play favourites with The Hurricane or The Rock.

In fact, despite Carter’s decline due to ageing knees and the inevitable rot that playing for the Nets induces, he remains one of the best scorers and offensive weapons in the League.

The Orlando Magic gave up a lot of pieces to acquire Half Man Half Amazing but when you consider how well he fits with their current roster, the cost of the move (both monetarily and in lost player personnel) seems to be worth their while.

The team may have lost a small point forward who posed their opponents countless match up problems last year, but in Carter they add a player capable of shooting from deep and taking it to the basket in a much more athletic and dynamic way. How many times did you see Hedo dunk it last year? You can argue that dunks aren’t too important and that 2 points is 2 points from anywhere. But. With Carter going to the hole a lot more than Turkoglu the floor instantly spreads that little bit extra giving the likes of Jameer Nelson, Rashard lewis and Mickael Pietrus that much more room to operate.

His shooting ability also ensures the defence has to play true to him allowing Orlando’s resident beast the space he needs to rip the boards down or go to work when he finally develops a go-to post move.

A different player who creates a different match up problem, but a problem all the same. There is little doubt that Anthony Parker, Paul Pierce, Delonte West and Ray Allen are much looking forward to their defensive assignments when the Magic come calling next year.

The big question is: why is everyone sleeping on Orlando?

The majority of the talk seems to be revolving around a Cleveland-Los Angeles Finals just like was predicted last year, and we all no what happened with that.

If it isn’t LeBron and Kobe it is Paul Pierce and co who are filling the column inches. The return of Garnett and the addition of Rasheed Wallace apparently makes them favourites if they stay healthy, or at least The Truth thinks so.

So, despite making the Finals last year for only the second time in franchise history, the Orlando Magic are apparently out of the picture. Even though by adding Carter they improve. Even though by adding Brandon Bass and resigning Marcin Gortat they significantly strengthened their front court. Even though Dwight Howard will have another year of improvement under his Superman cape. Even though they made the Finals without their starting point guard.

Are you serious?

The Cavs, Lakers and Celtics all deserve heat, no question, but to ignore the Magic as absolute contenders and maybe even the team to beat is to not only disregard last year’s achievements, but also their potential going into this year to improve.

Orlando Magic, next year’s team on Parade Street? You better believe it.

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Los Angeles Lakers: NBA Champions 2009

June 15, 2009

by Jack Maidment

The Lakers last night defeated the Orlando Magic to claim their 15th NBA title.

LA took down Dwight Howard and co in 5 games, celebrating on their opponents home floor. 

That which tasted so bitter for the Magic was oh so very sweet for the Lakers for a number of monumental reasons. 

Firstly, the recipient of the Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy Kobe Bryant can finally hush those who have consistently brought up Shaquille O’Neal in his quest for ring number 4. 

Shaq is gone and Kobe has his title with a new cast. He said that it felt like ‘the monkey was off his back’ and finally the media can move on. 

Secondly, Phil Jackson won ring number ten to go ahead of Boston’s Red for the title of most jewellery won. Ten rings. One for ever finger and thumb. 

Thirdly, the Lakers returned to the Finals after losing in ignominy last year to the Boston Celtics. They returned and they won. To consistently be right at the top of the game is something so difficult to sustain and the Lakers got theirs by maintaining their title drive ever since last year’s defeat. 

Where many teams reach the Finals and then dismantle their teams after they are unable to replicate the same form the next season, the Lakers are in a strong position to continue challenging for some years to come. 

Kobe has at least two more years of full throttle left and that could be enough to equal Jordan’s 6 ring record. 

He is surrounded by all the pieces to become the new dynasty. Pau Gasol’s addition could well go down as one of the greatest pick ups in history. 

The Lakers need to make sure Lamar Odom returns as well as Trevor Ariza. If that can be achieved, this will not be the LA Laker’s last title of the near future. 

Congratulations LA.


NBA Finals: My Name Is Pau Gasol. Adios Orlando

June 8, 2009

pauby Jack Maidment

Against the very best you may only get one opportunity. One chance to turn the tide, to take advantage of the single time that your opponent slips just a little.

Sunday night the Orlando Magic did not get one opportunity to switch the momentum in the NBA Finals, they got two. As Game 2 built to its climax, the Los Angeles Lakers left the door slightly ajar for Dwight Howard and co on two occasions.

Despite excellent platy calling from Stan Van Gundy, the Magic failed to convert two golden looks, both falling to Courtney Lee. Instead of taking the Lakers back to Florida all tied up, they return home in a 2-0 hole.

Ominous? Yep. The Lakers are 37-1 in series where they have won the opening two games.

Before this Finals began the focus was placed firmly on the Lake Show. If Orlando ended up Champions it would be because the Lakers had gifted it to them.

Regardless of the fact that such a point of view entirely belittles the accomplishments of a very strong Orlando team, it forgets how dangerous the magic can be. Look up potent in the dictionary. There’s a picture of Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis right next to that of Hugh Hefner.

However, if you were one of those people who believed in the Magic, you understood that they had a legitimate chance at rings if they ticked the right boxes.

1. Big games from Lewis to fully justify the amount of money that Florida’s finest (sorry Mr Wade) has committed to his lucrative contract.

2. Continuing clutch play from Turkey’s finest export (?).

Check on both counts. In Game 2 Lewis and Turkoglu combine to go 9-18 from down town. 50% from beyond the arc? Yeah, that could help.

3. Dominance down low and on the glass from Dwight Howard.

He may not have had 40, but Game 2’s perfomance saw Howard grab 16 rebounds to go with his 17 points. That’s pretty good going considering he is rebounding against Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, 1 on 3.

4. Contain Kobe.

Easier said than done for sure, but 29 and 8 for KB24 is a vast improvement on the 40+ he took in the series opener.

The Magic did all these 4 things in Game 2 but still roll out of town on a downer. Why?

Pau Gasol. The Spaniard is absolutely the key to Los Angeles’ victory and Orlando’s defeat.

24 and 10. Gaudy numbers from a player who is making the people calling him ‘soft’ look pretty silly.

It was Gasol that powered the Lakers to Game 2, 3-3 from the field and 5 of 5 from the line in the 4th quarter and the overtime period.

The City of Angels climbed aboard and he carried them to 2 and 0.

The Lakers record in this situation might be scary, but the combination of Pau and Kobe is scarier. Spanish. English. Telepathy? Their communication is simply infallible.

Game 3 is the biggest in Orlando’s history and anything other than a win will spell the end of their season.

Perhaps it is time to say goodbye to Orlando?

Or as Pau would say:

 

‘Gracias por todo, hasta luego. Adios.’


NBA Finals Preview: Orlando Magic Promise Problems for Los Angeles Lakers

May 31, 2009

05HowardDwight02by Jack Maidment

The Los Angeles Lakers.

The Orlando Magic.

Two teams. Two vastly different histories.

The Lakers are heading to The Finals for the 30th time. They hope to win their 15th title.

In dramatic contrast, the Magic will be appearing in The Finals for only the second time. Since sampling the delights of The Big Dance with Shaquille O’Neal back in 1995, Orlando has very much been an ‘also ran’ when the Playoffs role around.

But the emergence of another All-Star, All League Center in the shape of Dwight Howard, has powered the Magic to the Promised Land despite the prevailing sense of doubt that has emanated from the media all season long.

Boston, LA, San Antonio, Cleveland. They were the ‘real’ contenders.

Yet here we are. Two teams with vastly differing pasts will meet in The Finals for the NBA Championship. And both deserve their spot.

The Lakers may be the Jekyll and Hyde of pro sports, but their talent cannot be questioned. Nor can their heart, which has been shown numerous times.

When the Lake Show was seemingly in a hole, even if they had put themselves in it, they came out firing and ultimately are still standing.

Character, like tea, reveals itself in hot water and you better believe that’s true. As the water boiled around them, the Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant, made the plays that mattered to get the W.

Meanwhile, regardless of commentators’ love of the phrase ‘live and die by the 3 pointer’, Orlando has progressed and shows no signs of changing their style.

And why would they. You can’t stay hot all the time. True. But when you have a team with more long range threats than the US Navy it doesn’t matter if 1,2 or 3 of your guys goes cold. You still got the other 3.

Combine the shooting of Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Rafer Alston, Mickael Pietrus, JJ Reddick and Courtney Lee with the inside presence of Dwight Howard and the grossly underrated Marcin Gortat then you have a recipe for success.

So where will the Championship be won and loss?

1. Home Court.

The Lakers must be secretly excited that they avoid the Cleveland Cavaliers and thus an extra road game. Their regular season hard work has paid off with the Magic needing a win at the Staples Centre to have any chance at the Gold.

Both teams have maintained a constant disregard for home court this post season. Both have had disappointing losses at home only to follow them up with huge road wins to recover the advantage.

If the trend continues then we have a rollercoaster 7 game stretch ahead of us.

But. If the Lakers can stamp their authority on the series with victories in the opening two games the Magic will face a huge task to wrestle the trophy from Phil Jackson’s hands.

2. Front Court Vs Front Court

The respective 3,4 and 5s of these teams would leave just about every team in the NBA green with jealousy. Both are extremely talented.

The way in which they match up in The Finals will go some way to deciding who prevails.

The difficulty for the Lakers falls on the defensive end where the Magic will provide the same match up problems as they did the Cleveland Cavaliers.

3 guys, all 6-10 or bigger. All Mobile. 2 of them will kill you off the dribble despite their size.

Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom will have their hands full. Whoever isn’t trying to contain Dwight Howard will be tasked with sticking to Lewis and Turkoglu.

Odom is the best equipped to deal with the outside threat of the Magic big men, but who picks up the other guy? Pau or Bynum on Lewis? That could get ugly.

All this to worry about while simultaneously trying to keep Howard off the glass.

3. Kobe Bryant

Kobe’s importance to LA is huge. The Magic will unlikely allow him to score 1 on 1 while they take care of his team mates, but such is his ability out of the double team that doubling up can allow Kobe to get his entire team scoring, boosting the feel good factor and mood of the crowd.

In a series that will undoubtedly be tight, Kobe down the stretch could be the difference. The Magic will look to hustle and hurry him all series long but he will get his. You just have to live with that.

Lakers in 6.


NBA Playoffs 2009 Eastern Conference Finals: LeBron Needs Help, Evens Series Regardless

May 23, 2009

by Jack Maidment

For the most part, 1 second in sports can last an eternity and its repercussions can last even longer. Just ask LeBron James who last night hit a game winning, buzzer beating 3 pointer with 1 tick left on the clock to tie the Eastern Conference finals at one game all.

Where has LeBron's team gone?

Where has LeBron's team gone?

Despite a dominant first half performance by the Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic clawed their way back into the game, recovering from numerous double digit leads to swapping leads in the 4th.

Regardless of 3 quarters of relative dominance, the Cavs were staring at a 2-0 hole which would have made their task to progress nigh on impossible.

It is in moments like those that you need your superstars to come and play.

One did, one did not.

Mo Williams may have talked trash yesterday, belittling the Magic, but the fact remains that he may as well have stayed home last night. His first shot of the night was an air ball; a microcosm of his series if ever there was one.

Fortunately Mo can call LeBron James his team mate and he and the rest of Cleveland clung on to the bottom of the King’s cloak and prayed that he could get it done.

Charles Barkley’s assertion that the Magic would win this series has begun to look like the best prediction in the history of sports as Orlando exhibits a balanced offense and a stifling defense.

Balanced the Cavaliers were not: it was either going to take a James’ superhuman effort or they would head to Florida in big trouble.

As it is, LeBron came up huge and the series is absolutely alive.

However, the memory of the Cavliers’ previous eight games has been erased as they are considerably flattered by the even series.

If it is only LeBron James who turns up to play in Orlando the the Cavs will not even get close to the Magic. One man can only do so much, even when you are the King.

It would seem that the rest of his team mates have become petrified by the sight of an opposition that can actually play with them. Cleveland rabbits to Orlando’s team bus headlights.

Orlando are too big, too strong and too talented to grant any concessions to a team that has floundered under their status as conference favourites.

Big Z looks old. Ben Wallace appears half the player he was 2 years ago. Delonte West apparently has shrunk in the fact of responsibility, bricking the open looks that he has made all season.

The most emphasis on the Cav’s shaky play has to be attributed to Mo Williams who quite simply has to earn his All-Star contract.

The Playoffs are where it counts. Nobody cares how good you were in the regular season.

In Game 2, when all of the marbles were all on the line, LeBron stepped up and did his thing, dragging his petrified franchise to the win.

He needs help. True.

Whether or not he gets it? That much we will find out.


NBA Playoffs 2009 Eastern Conference Semi Finals Game 5: Welcome Back Stephon Marbury

May 13, 2009

stephon

by Jack Maidment

It is game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semi Finals and the Celtics are down big. Paul Pierce is the only player that Boston has been able to count on for points.

Ray Allen is suffering. Nothing is falling for Mr Shuttlesworth, every miss taking the crowd further and further out of the game.

Big Baby Davis is doing his best, but 3rd option on a Championship he is not.

Kevin Garnett is quiet on the sideline, looking at the ground rather than talking smack.

The Celtic’s struggles offensively are underlined by their crumbling defense that previously would have kept them in the game during a scoring drought.

The 4th quarter begins and Doc Rivers is flat out of answers for the Orlando Magic’s charge. And so, he gambles.

Welcome back Starbury. The one time Knick and All Star heads onto the floor surely appreciating the magnitude of a game that must have seemed a distant dream at the start of this season as he sat and rotted in street clothes on the New York Bench.

The crowd is quiet, knowing that Stephon Marbury has hardly been stellar coming of the bench since he signed. But I guess beggars can not be choosers and so he goes to work.

The inevitable rust of a player who is over 30 and played little is clear. He misses a couple of jumpers. And then, the man with the tattoo on his head, starts to play. As he once did.

He hits a 3. And a jumper. He starts to demand the ball and is visibly annoyed when the Celts differ to Big Baby for a Kobe-esque fadeaway. Which, surprise, misses.

The next time down the floor Marbury gets the ball, drives, resets, asks for a screen at the three point line, drives right, finds space. 3. Nothing but net.

One. Man. Offense.

A once double digit lead begins to dwindle and the Magic are stuck stiff. The free flowing, gunning offense, has died and they settle for tough 3s with hands in their face.

The dreaded ‘choke’ is descending on the Magic and it is all because of Marbury. He scores 11 points in a row and nails a free throw to take it to 12. In 5 minutes.

Pierce hits a pull up J and the Cs are up 1. Time out Orlando and the lid is getting blown off the building. Starbury returns to the bench, bumps and slaps are dished and Magic stew at the other end.

With no hyperbole, Stephon Marbury has just saved the Celtics. They are energised, especially Ray Allen, who proceeds to forget that he couldn’t hit a barn door in the first 3 quarters with huge three pointers. And Garnett is shouting.

He has got his war face on.

The game closes with the teams exchanging free throws. But the result is never in doubt as the Cs take the win and go into game 6 at Disney Land with a firm grip on the series and crucially, the momentum.

Stephon Marbury is back.


NBA Playoffs Conference Semi Finals, Boston meet Orlando: 7 Games Never Looked So Good

May 3, 2009

paul-pierce-34_112609

7 games never felt so good. Boston may have closed out the Chicago Bulls last night, but the only real winners were the audience.

Chicago are off home for exit interviews and the Boston Celtics have no time at all to prepare for what should be an even sterner test against an Orlando Magic team whose All-Star center has discovered a nasty streak.

The absence of Kevin Garnett effectively guaranteed that this first rounder would be much closer  than each franchise’s seeding would have suggested.

The Bulls team, with John Salmons and Brad Miller in the squad, would have been good for the 5th seed out East if they had played the whole season as they had since their trade with Sacramento.

In contrast, if Boston had missed Garnett the whole season they would have been closer to the 4th seed rather than the 2nd spot.

The seedings lied and what followed could well have been the finest first round playoff series in the history of the NBA.

Regardless of the exit, the Bulls know that in Derrick Rose they have a truly mercurial talent that should develop (more) into one of the finest in the game. Depending on Ben Gordon’s contract situation, the Bulls will return, a year wiser and more experienced.

Along with Gordon, Rose was the Bulls leader. Dude is a Rookie.

Perspective is a fine thing.

Boston have little time to be relieved as the Magic come calling in just a few days, fresh off of a confidence boosting win in Philadelphia, something they achieved without their suspended big man.

Can Orlando dethrone the Champions? They have to fancy their chances. Without Garnett the Celtics look lost defensively and will struggle almightily to contain Dwight Howard. Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis and Mikki Moore will have their hands full.   

The possibility of 20/20 games for Howard is very real given the calibre of player he will be up against, none of who are the greatest of athletes, at least when compared to Howard.

The Cs will be even more reliant on their new Big 3: Rondo, Pierce and Allen. All of whom will have to be at their best to see off a surging Magic.

It is certainly worth considering the extent to which fatigue might play a part in this series with Allen especially having played many, many minutes in the numerous overtimes with Chicago.

The Celtic big men just have to try and contain Howard as best they can and make the magic hit their shots from deep. If Howard dominates (likely) Boston will be going fishing. If they keep his numbers respectable, then the likes of Allen and Pierce will have a chance to play clutch and sink the upstarts from Florida.

Such is the importance of Garnett and the presence of Howard that the Magic will progress in 6. Although if their first rounder has taught us anything it is that there will be countless twists and turns before we know who will advance to the Conference Finals.