The Magic, as you probably know, haven’t lost a game yet in the post-season. Their combined margin of victory in their four-game sweep of the Hawks—101 points, or about 25 per game—set an NBA record for the largest combined victory margin in a four-game playoff victory.
So what’s going on with Orlando? Have they stepped up their game in the post-season? Has Vince Carter finally figured out how to thrive in the Magic’s system after struggling badly early in the season? Is Jameer Nelson healthy after suffering serious knee and shoulder injuries over the last 16 months? What is Stan Van Gundy whining about today?
To answer these questions, I turned to Eddy Rivera, author of Magic Basketball, the Orlando-themed blog in the TrueHoop network. Eddy’s answers are below. You can read my answers to his questions about the C’s at Magic Basketball here. Eddy’s blog and Orlando Pinstriped Post should be required reading for serious Boston fans over the next two weeks.
CelticsHub: Dwight Howard seems to have gotten into more foul trouble this season than last, and that carried over into the 1st round of the playoffs. Is that true? If it is, why do you think it’s happening? Has he been more aggressive on defense this season?
Magic Basketball: It was somewhat true during the early portions of the regular season.
For the first month or so of the 82-game schedule, Dwight Howard picked up ticky-tack fouls and his energy level, especially on defense, wasn’t where it was last year. For those that didn’t watch the Orlando Magic a lot this year, Howard’s foul troubles against the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round of the playoffs was how things went for him in November. At times, it was a mess. But as the season progressed, Howard picked it up defensively and didn’t get himself into too much foul trouble. Yeah, Howard would get into a stretch of games where it didn’t seem like he could stay on the floor but those occurrences were far and few between.
To put things in perspective, Howard committed 3.5 personal fouls per 36 minutes this year compared to 3.1 per 36 last year. So if it seems like Howard has gotten into more foul trouble this season, it’s because he has. Why is it happening? Well, how it usually works is that Howard will pick up ticky-tack fouls and questionable ones that don’t go his way (this happened several times against the Bobcats, for example), lose focus, get frustrated at the calls being made, then things will snowball from there. That’s usually how it goes, with technical fouls thrown in for good measure sometimes. Howard has learned from his mistakes, but he’s still prone to them.
CH: How do you think the Magic will defend Rajon Rondo?
MB: Referencing back to the tape of the games this season, I think Jameer Nelson or whoever else will defend him relatively close. The reason why is if Rondo does beat his man off the dribble, and it will inevitably happen, Howard (or Marcin Gortat) will be there in the paint to meet him. If Gortat is in the game, Rondo will probably look to attack more … which is smart. Gortat is no slouch defensively but he’s no Howard, either.
On pick and rolls, the Magic will most likely go under the screen and give Rondo the space to shoot all day. If Rondo makes his jumpers, so be it. In transition, Orlando just needs to limit those type of opportunities for Rondo to create in the open-court. Head coach Stan Van Gundy isn’t a fool. Van Gundy isn’t going to do what the Cleveland Cavaliers did and give Rondo all the space in the world to operate offensively.
That’s the last thing that will happen.
CH: Jameer Nelson is tearing it up in the playoffs. Is he just finally getting healthy again–sort of like KG in Boston? Or has his offensive game evolved in some way over the last month or two?
MB: It’s definitely, positively, simply been a matter of Nelson getting and staying healthy. Nelson showed flashes of brilliance during the second half of the regular season but ever since the playoffs began, he has been playing the best basketball of his career. Yes, even better than his first half campaign last year. And it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for the Magic, either.
With that said, Nelson’s matchup with Rondo should be a doozy to watch.
CH: Mickael Pietrus terrifies me, and the Magic have three dependable guard/wing-types off the bench in Air France, J.J. Redick and White Chocolate. But which of the Magic’s back-up bigs do you see playing the biggest role in this series–Ryan Anderson, Marcin Gortat or Brandon Bass?
MB: The safe pick is Marcin Gortat.
The reason being is that if Orlando needs some size alongside Howard, Gortat is more than capable of stepping in at power forward and providing some good minutes in the short-term. Look no further than January 28, when Gortat was paired with Howard and helped lead the Magic’s fourth quarter comeback against the Boston Celtics. There are always questions as to how Gortat and Howard co-exist on offense, but there’s no denying the boost Orlando gets in the rebounding and shot blocking department.
Anderson is a bit of a wild card, making note that he’s capable of stretching a defense like Lewis and bringing some of the same things to the table, offensively at least, but recognizing the fact that he hasn’t done much in the postseason up to this juncture. Bass has barely seen any playing time and given that the Magic need to score against the Celtics’ defense, and Orlando sometimes struggle to score when Bass is in the game, it’s unlikely he sees much time on the floor but you never know. Anything can happen.
CH: Do you think Kevin Garnett and Matt Barnes will just get the nose-to-nose thing over in the first game, or will they save it for later in the series?
MB: Heh. Expect the pleasantries to take place rather early in Game 1, knowing the personalities of those two players.