Ever since Stan Van Gundy became Orlando’s silver-medal following the whole Billy Donovan tease and began to put his imprint on the Magic, we’ve been hearing the same two things over and over again:
1. The Magic can’t win until Dwight Howard develops a solid offensive arsenal.
2. The Magic can’t win if they’re going to live and die on three-pointers.
Now here’s the truth: Both of those statements are wrong.
In the case of Dwight, as long as he’s putting up 20 points, 14 boards and three blocks a night, I don’t care if he’s breaking out Dream Shakes and fadeaways, or if he’s just dunking on everybody and throwing in ugly hook shots. Dwight is going to be a dominant post player for at least the next decade. If he isn’t already the best center in the League, he’s a close second behind Yao Ming, and Yao can’t even make it through a postseason without re-enacting SAMUEL L. JACKSON‘s “Mr. Glass” role from Unbreakable.
Then there’s the issue with three-pointers. You can’t watch an Orlando game (especially on national TV) without the announcers making at least 2-3 mentions about how the Magic feast or famine on threes, then wondering aloud if they can go all the way playing that style. Admittedly, I’ve even done it myself in articles a bunch of times. But after last night’s Game 1 conference finals win, as I got e-mails and read comments from shook Cleveland fans still insisting their team doesn’t have to worry because “Teams that live and die on threes never win championships,” I realized that maybe none of us “experts” know what we’re talking about.
Because, you know what? It has happened before. The 1994 Rockets were actually built a lot like the current Magic. Hakeem Olajuwon was the anchor in the middle, and he was surrounded by a brigade of three-point shooters: Vernon Maxwell, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry, Sam Cassell, Mario Elie, Matt Bullard and Scotty Brooks. In the season where Houston won the ‘chip, they led the NBA in threes made and attempted — hitting 429 of 1,285 tries — finishing well ahead of the second-place team in each category. (Coincidentally, that team was the Shaq/Penny Orlando squad.) Granted, the current Magic took and made about twice as many triples as Mad Max’s team, but the entire League is taking a ton more three-pointers these days. For that era, though, Houston was considered a three-happy group.
The biggest difference between the ’94 Rockets (who won 58 games in the regular season) and the ’09 Magic is that Hakeem had Otis Thorpe up front with him, who was good for a double-double every night and could effectively guard dudes like Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Shawn Kemp while keeping Hakeem out of foul trouble. Dwight doesn’t have that kind of enforcer/cleanup hitter, although I’ve been saying for a while that Van Gundy should at least try to play Dwight and Marcin Gortat together once in a while and see what happens.
Either way, the experts will stick to the same script with Orlando, and the Magic will just continue to win. I’m not predicting they’re going to take the whole thing this year, but it’s not a crazy idea; the Magic do have wins over each of the remaining teams in the field, and they swept the Lakers.
Dwight’s elementary post game and the team’s live-and-die perimeter style was good enough for the Magic to win 59 regular-season games. It was good enough to take down the defending champions (on the road in Game 7). And, so far, it’s good enough to have them one-up on a Cavs team everyone had already penciled into the NBA Finals.