Championship Contenders and Championship Pretenders
What truly separates teams like Orlando, Denver, Dallas, and Boston? When you look closely at each team, the records are pretty similar. Each team has at least one top 10-15 player representing their teams and all have at least one future hall of famer. Why is it then that nobody in Orlando is is truly fearful of any of these teams? It all comes down to depth.
Tonight versus Denver, Orlando lost Vince Carter to a sprained toe just two minutes into the game. Already shorthanded due to Michael Pietrus being out with a sprained ankle, the Magic were forced to play J.J. Redick virtually the entire game (46 minutes). This is a guy that up until the playoffs last year, even Magic fans weren’t truly buying him being an NBA player. The rest of the NBA should finally be taking notice. 23 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds in those 46 minutes. J.J. Nation was exploding with joy. Most of the game, he was being guarded by a player in Arron Afflalo who is literally placed on the court solely to play shut down defense. Sure didn’t look that way tonight. Then as Rashard Lewis has been struggling, you have Ryan Anderson coming off the bench and he goes 7-8 from the field, including 4-5 from 3-point range. Before Friday night’s game against Minnesota, he had registered only 26 minutes of playing time in the entire last month. Denver was short handed too though tonight. Kenyon Martin is out for the rest of the regular season and Ty Lawson is still dinged up with a shoulder strain. The difference between the two teams is that when the Magic go to the bench, they get production. When Denver has to replace players, they turn to Johan Petro and Anthony Carter…. Ouch. Result? Magic victory.
The same can be said for Dallas and Boston. Once filled with dynamic talent off the bench, Boston now is stuck with lumbering overweight and old players off the bench like the 430 pound Rasheed Wallace and the 96 year old Michael Finley. Doesn’t exactly strike fear in anyone’s heart. Dallas still has Jason Terry who can come off the bench and score in bunches, but outside of a random 40 point outburst by Rodrigue Beaubois (I bet you can’t pronounce it right the first time), nobody worries you.
These teams are all therefore 100% reliant on their starters to carry them every game. Over an 82 game season, this isn’t really an issue. You have sufficient time between games, and can beat up enough weaker teams to post a strong record. Win a few big TNT or ABC games on national TV and people truly start thinking you are championship contenders. The big secret here, that nobody likes to look at, is that in a 7 game series these teams are one injury away from going home early. All of a sudden when every possession matters, those bench players getting 10-15 minutes a game start having much more of an impact. The Magic bench players have shown throughout the year and even back in last year’s playoffs, that any one player can step into the starting lineup and contribute in full. I am confident in every player on our roster from the 6th through the 12th man…..well, 30% confident in Pietrus. Do you think that Boston fans are saying that about Sheldon Williams and Fightin’ Scalibrine? Is Denver saying it about Joey Graham and Malik Allen? I KNOW Dallas isn’t saying it about Deshawn Stevenson and Eduardo Najera. I just named 6 players that should barely even be on an NBA roster. Yet, come playoff time, there is a legitimate chance that these players will be playing pivotal minutes in a 7 game series. This is exactly why these teams are nothing more than, championship pretenders.
I extend my congratulations to the teams for putting together good years. This will no doubt lead to their poor fans being doped into rising ticket sales and the false pretense that they have a legitimate chance of making it to the Finals and even possibly winning it. It’s all false hope though. Magic fans know this false hope all too well. Luckily, we have finally gotten to the point where we know we are truly championship contenders.
Only two teams stand in our way of watching Marcin Gortat do his best Mark Madsen impersonation through downtown Orlando. The Kobe’s and the Lebron’s are in a special class. Bench doesn’t matter. However, the Magic and their depth have shown that can beat them. Lebron tasted the defeat last year and will bitterly walk off the court with a loss again. Kobe will get his this year. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be battles in the playoffs this year and the Magic could even very well face a couple tough 7 game battles before they get to the Lebron’s . However, for the first time in a long time as a Magic fan, you now truly believe that this team will pull them out. The depth and cohesiveness of this team will win out over the patchwork Celtics. Denver and Dallas will beat each other up but in the end, they will provide no real challenge to the Lakers. The Finals WILL be a matchup of the 2009 Finals and the Magic will be able to say that they could not have done it without every man on the roster from 1-12.
Note: Atlanta, Milwaukee, Miami, Utah, Phoenix, OKC and San Antonio were purposely left out of this article. They are all good teams but have zero chance of advancing to the Finals. Especially San Antonio… Are you kidding with me giving Keith Bogans that many minutes???