Thursday, February 11, 2010

Orlando Magic (35-17) @ Cleveland Cavaliers (42-11)

It seems as though every decade we are treated to a few physical specimens that just seem to defy the logic (no I’m not talking about Dirk Diggler’s elephant trunk, get your mind out of the gutter) of what a basketball player should look like. For instance, the 1980’s gave us an incredible 6’9 point guard by the name of Magic Johnson; the 1990’s gave us a brute and yet skilled 6’4 power forward by the name of Charles Barkley and the 2000’s gave us a mammoth 300 lbs. and 7’1 center with amazing quickness and agility by the name of Shaquille O’Neal. So what physical specimens do we have to look forward to in the next decade? Glad you asked……

Several people seem to think that we have already seen earlier versions of Dwight Howard. Some see a little bit of Shaq in him because of his size, strength, agility and his ability to finish at the rim; while others see some shades of Ben Wallace in him because of his willingness to be a great defensive anchor despite being an undersized center. Indeed, Shaquille O’Neal at his most devastating was a great offensive force that occasionally blocked his opponents’ path to the basket. Ben Wallace on the other hand refused to give his adversaries an inch when protecting his basket but his offensive contributions were very limited. Mix both of those guys together, and you have Dwight Howard. Put it in perspective, the thought of seeing a Shaq clone that actually cares on defense has to be somewhat terrifying.

Mind you, this decade not only brings us Dwight Howard, but it also gives us another freak of nature in the name of LeBron James. James is a 6’8 and 250 lbs. small forward. And yet, sometimes he plays like Magic (sets up offense, distributes ball and gets teammates involved) and sometimes he takes over and scores almost at will like Mike; except a bigger and more physical version. I was having this talk with a friend earlier today, if LeBron James were a prison inmate, he would probably be the biggest, toughest and most intimidating inmate in the prison; but he would also be the guy that sold cigarettes to people, just because he could do it all. Dwight Howard on the other hand would be the correctional officer that no one would mess with. Want me to push this analogy further? Ron Artest would probably be the shower guy (as evidenced by the story of the Lakers losing Game 6 in Boston and Ron Ron approaching Kobe in the showers), Steve Nash would be the cafeteria chef (you know, because he’s always feeding people) and David Stern would be the warden. So tonight, in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, we have the inmate that no one wants to test (LeBron) going up against the correctional officer that strikes fear into the inmates (Howard). What happens tonight?

The Orlando Magic are the defending Eastern Conference champions and have had the Cavaliers number for the past few years. But this year is different. The biggest obstacle that the Cavs faced last year was their inability to defend both Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. LeBron James would cover one of them while the other got off and then he would switch to the hot one to cool him off but have the previously cold one heat up. This year, the Magic are a different team because Hedo Turkoglu is no longer around and he has been replaced by Vince Carter. Vince is still a good scorer but he does not present the same mismatch that Turkoglu presented because of his size.

Hedo Turkoglu’s best contributions to the Magic came in the form of his rebounding, clutch scoring and his play making ability. He made shots down the stretch and facilitated ball movement which in turn meant that every player got a decent amount of touches. Look at Turk’s averages against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals:
In wins: 13.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 8.5 APG, 27.7 FG%
In losses: 25.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 54.3 FG%

What the numbers demonstrate is that when Turkoglu shot the ball well, he became a bit more focused on his offense and therefore did not help others get shots and also failed to attack the boards. With that said, Turk has moved on and his spot now goes to Vince Carter. How does he fit into the picture?

Let’s not kid ourselves people, Vince Carter has become a shell of his former self. He doesn’t attack the basket like he once did and has become a less than average perimeter shooter because of his questionable shot selection. Earlier this week Vince put up 48 points and it might have convinced a few people that better days were ahead, but that was fools gold. Vince Carter simply got hot from the field and started jacking up shots. Carter only went to the free throw line four times in the game. Four times! VC basically stayed away from the basket and shot jump shots, and it so happened that they went in. He will be back to normal soon enough though: settling for long jumpers, wincing in pain after every fall and acting like his shoulder is bothering him after every missed shot; we see you Vince. And tonight when he plays in Cleveland, it’s very likely that he will come out aggressive. In their first meeting back in November, Dwight Howard got into early foul trouble which meant that Vince had to assume a large part of the scoring burden. He did that rather well as he chipped in 29 points, five rebounds and one assist. However, his ball stopping habits (he catches the ball, looks at defense, waits for defense to slide into position and then shoots or drives the ball all the while putting a halt to the motion offense) prevented the Magic from getting into initiating their offense properly. Indeed, Orlando finished the game with a mere nine assists. I’m not expecting the same type of production but I can see Vince having a decent game; and that might be enough tonight against a banged up Cavs squad.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been playing great basketball as of late. Their 12 game winning streak has them at the top of the league’s standings. However, the injuries to both Mo Williams and Delonte West have to affect them at some point. The Cavs have been able to get scoring from players such as Shaquille O’Neal, J.J. Hickson and Jawad Williams during the winning streak, but those guys won’t be enough against the Magic frontline. Luckily for the Magic, their frontcourt matches up extremely well with the Cavaliers’. Rashard Lewis, Mickel Pietrus and Dwight Howard will shut them down and force LeBron to have to win the game alone. King James is capable of doing such a feat, but not without at least some type of help from his teammates. The Cavs starting backcourt is usually a strength but the absence of Mo Williams’ scoring will be too much to overcome tonight at the Quicken Loans Arena. Pick: Magic win 101-98.

Photo by: AP Photo/Phelan Ebenhack

From: ESPN