Scared? Hardly. Nervous? Didn’t seem so.
He broke into his infamous Charles Barkley impression to explain.
“The Cleveland Cavaliers got Antawn Jamison(notes) to matchup with Rashard Lewis(notes) and the Orlando Magic,” Howard said, drawing chuckles as he mimicked Barkley’s voice. “The Cavaliers had to get LeBron James(notes) some more help.”
Ousted by Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals last season, the Cavaliers traded for Shaquille O’Neal(notes) in the summer and acquired Jamison from Washington this week. The Magic perceive these moves simply as trying to stack up with them, and maybe for good reason.
They might be the ones with the personnel problems now.
“We’re the team that knocked them out last year in the playoffs because of matchup problems,” Lewis said. “And they’re trying to correct those things that will help them get over that hump.”
The new-look Cavaliers will face the Magic on Sunday for the first time since they acquired Jamison. While the outcome won’t decide anything, it could offer a preview should the teams meet in the playoffs.
Only with a twist.
Howard dominated Cleveland last season, going for 40 points and 14 rebounds in the Game 6 clincher. When the Cavs double-teamed him, Orlando’s potent shooters let loose.
So the Cavs got Shaq. No more double teams.
That still might not have been enough.
Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu(notes), a 6-foot-10 point forward who the Magic parted ways with in the summer, were a one-two combo of shooters with size whom Cleveland struggled to contain. James, moving around defensively on the perimeter, couldn’t stop them both. And his teammates couldn’t match the offensive output at power forward.
So the Cavs got Jamison.
“The best thing he’ll do for our team is spread the floor,” James said. “His shooting ability is unbelievable. The fact he can play multiple positions can really make us versatile.”
Cleveland had no choice after last year’s meltdown.
The Magic were in control for most of the conference finals, with the Cavaliers needing a spectacular buzzer-beating 3-pointer by James for one of only two wins in the playoff series. Cleveland was just 3-6 against the Magic last year and never won in Orlando.
Cleveland is already 2-0 against the defending conference champions this season; the first was a blowout in Orlando, the second a tight game in Cleveland until James pulled the Cavaliers away late.
The Magic were also playing on the second night of back-to-back games in both. No excuses this time.
“They’re already the best 3-point shooting team in the league,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “They get another guy who can stretch the floor with Shaq inside, LeBron on the perimeter.”
The Cavs aren’t the only team with a lineup shuffle.
The Magic traded for Vince Carter(notes) in the offseason to supplant Turkoglu, giving them a new pick-and-roll element at the end of games that they sorely lacked against the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals. Newcomers Jason Williams(notes), Matt Barnes(notes), Ryan Anderson(notes) and Brandon Bass(notes) also followed.
Whether it’s enough to get them past Cleveland is hard to say.
But the Magic believe they have the talent to match anybody, and didn’t bother to make a trade-deadline move. And, at least publicly, they aren’t worried about the revamped Cavaliers posing any matchup problems.
“It doesn’t scare me,” Lewis said of the Cavs’ latest move. “One guy doesn’t win ballgames. They do have another guy called LeBron James, which is going to be our focus.”