Last season, the Orlando Magic kind of snuck up on the rest of the league. While everybody knew that they had a solid roster, not many expected them to come out as Eastern Conference Champions. This time around, Orlando is not only one of the favorites to win the East again but is right there in the mix to compete for a title as well. This time around, the path will be a little different.
The Magic have a different roster than last year and the East’s other powerhouses have also loaded up on talent during the offseason. Here are five areas of concern that could affect Orlando’s quest for a ring in ’09-10.
Rashard Lewis’ Suspension
In August, the league suspended Rashard Lewis for 10 games for taking an over-the-counter supplement that was banned by the league. While the Magic have enough weapons to make due without him for that stretch, his absence could cost them a couple of games. In a tight Eastern Conference where every game counts, two or three lost games could make the difference between first place and third place.
Gone are Rafer Alston, Hedo Turkoglu and Courtney Lee – some of the Magic’s key players in the playoff run. There’s no way the team would have gotten that far if Rafer didn’t fill in for Jameer Nelson or Hedo didn’t hit all those clutch shots or Courtney Lee didn’t break out on both sides of the court. The Magic have replaced them with some solid talent. Vince Carter is a former all-star who can still give you 20. Jason Williams is a talented point guard who won a championship with Miami back in ’06. Brandon Bass is young, big and athletic. Matt Barnes is a tenacious defender who can hit the three and Ryan Anderson is a versatile player who could be that x-factor for the Magic. It will be interesting to see how this group can gel together and whether the new additions will disrupt the chemistry.
Carter is used to getting touches, he averaged over 17 shots per game. Hedo was getting around 13, so is VC cool with getting less looks? Can he replace Turkoglu as the team’s go-to-guy for the final shot? Will Bass’ presence shift Lewis to the three and push Mickael Pietrus to the bench? Or do they keep Lewis at the four and have Bass come off the bench?
Can Dwight Come Through in the Clutch?
A lot has been made about Dwight Howard’s one dimensional game. His lack of post moves and inability to make free throws makes him a liability come crunch time. He insisted that he worked on both those areas over the summer, but so far in the preseason, he has been inconsistent from the line. Superman is destined for another monster season and deserves MVP consideration, but if you’re a franchise player and can’t be a factor in the game’s final minutes, than you can’t win championships.
Point Guard Situation
Nelson was having an all-star season until he was forced to shut it down for the year with a shoulder injury. Alston came in and held down the fort for the rest of the season and the majority of the playoffs. Now that Alston is gone, the Magic are relying on Williams to back up Nelson and provide insurance in case he gets injured. After sitting out last season, Williams will definitely be rusty. Plus, he’s going on 34 years old. It will be interesting to see whether he can show flashes of the player we saw in Miami.
The East Got Stronger
The road to the finals is going to be a lot tougher this year. Cleveland has Shaq now, so he can be a problem for Howard. Even though O’Neal is at the end of his career, he is still a big body who can command a double team. Plus he’s got so much playoff experience and knows how to win. Boston was missing KG last year – who missed the playoffs due to an injury. This year, the Celtics are entering the season healthy and with a few more weapons like Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels. It is definitely going to be a dog fight for whoever the Magic face in the quarter finals and Conference finals.
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