Sun May 16 12:00pm EDT
My ready-made Orlando/Cleveland prediction, in place since last August, is worthless. The Cavs couldn't swing it against those busted Celtics, the team that swung all mediocre from January to April. The squad that forced some to flip a coin to pick their first series against Miami. The team that was so 2008.
Well, it's 2008 all over again, because the C's are rolling. And though Paul Pierce(notes) has fallen off a bit, Kevin Garnett(notes) has come out of nowhere to bring an edge offensively (save for some pretty famous exceptions, I thought the noise about his supposed significant defensive fall off was overdone), and Rajon Rondo's(notes) emergence is nearly making up for Pierce's offensive issues. And, really, for the last two years we've been able to credit Paul's offensive struggles against Cleveland to LeBron James(notes); and I don't know if you've seen any single shred of media in any format recently, but James' season ended on Thursday night. Paul is free again.
So it's Boston and Orlando. The Boston team that, we kept trying to remind you, took the Magic to seven scary games last season, without Kevin Garnett. No, Jameer Nelson(notes) wasn't around to put the C's away, but he's struggled over the last two seasons against Rajon Rondo, and tends to disappear when the first 18 minutes of a game don't go his way.
Pretty scary intro for the Magic backers, eh? Well, as it's been all season, they have a bit to fall back on. Like talent, effort, and confidence. The home court advantage, too. Those silly things.
But as it has been all season, and (thankfully, because it's been great to watch) all postseason, Orlando's ability to succeed will come if two factors are in place. The Magic can succeed if Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis(notes) stay aggressive offensively, and the Magic can succeed if Dwight Howard(notes) stays out of foul trouble.
Brilliant analysis, I know: Orlando will beat the other team if two of their best shooters shoot well and shoot a lot and their best player gets to play basketball for a long time. But that's why we boil it down. To get the stock that we're going to use in anywhere between four and seven different meals over the next two weeks.
Boston's improving, game by game. Half by half, almost, as they appear to get stronger as the game moves along, and there are stats to support that. The level of production that you get from the Magic, on either end? I just can't see any amount of effort, any amount of second wind, successfully combating that. Not from Boston, at least. If the Magic work hard and don't mope, then they can't help but have at you on both sides of the court.
I can't look past that. Boston is playing inspired and inspiring (we have a new championship contender? Sweet!) basketball, and they have matchup advantages that I'm sure will come to the forefront both today, and as the series moves along. They also care, they know how to work together, they know how to rescue a broken play on the offensive end, and they know how to talk and help defensively.
But Orlando is too good. And while you start each game 0-0, any bit of random coin flip happenstance could give Dwight Howard three quick whistles, and Rashard Lewis isn't guaranteed a 40 percent clip from long range every time he pulls up, the Magic are stacked. I get that Orlando's averages and percentages aren't playing this game, and that the Orlando players are, but I can't ignore history and what I've been watching over the last two years just because the Celtics have turned back into ... well, the team that won a championship two years ago.
Which makes it a pretty lovely thing to anticipate. I know I'll have fun, and I hope my "six" turns into a "seven." We'll see.
Orlando in six.