By BRENDAN HALL
When the 2010-2011 season of the National Basketball Association ends, it will be remembered as the first season the Orlando Magic won the NBA title.
After the most memorable free agency summer in professional sports, the Magic come in under the radar with a chip on their shoulder. The Miami Heat have composed their super team of Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, and are heavy favorites to win the Eastern Conference.
The defending Eastern Conference Champions, the Boston Celtics, with the addition of 15-time All-Star Shaquille O’Neal, look ready for one last shot at the title, and the World Champion Los Angeles Lakers are still considered the best team in the league with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
However, none of these three teams have Dwight Howard. After working out with 2-time champion center Hakeem Olajuwon over the summer, Howard has diversified his offensive game. Howard, who won Defensive Player of the Year the past two seasons, has been heavily criticized for his offensive inefficiency and small repertoire of moves.
But now he has immensely improved his face-up jump shot, added a multitude of spin moves and become more explosive getting to the basket. Now with both sides of his game fine-tuned, Howard has a chance to steal the Most Valuable Player award from the heavy favorite, Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant.
The key to the Magic’s season, however, is the supporting cast. Instead of hunting down new big-name players, the Magic stuck to their guns, and the superstars, as well as the role players, are beginning to step up.
During the preseason, J.J. Redick averaged 12.8 points per game and was shooting over 48 percent from the field and over 42 percent from 3-point range at only 27 minutes per game. The role players stepping up offensively are Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson and Marcin Gortat who also averaged over 11 PPG in the preseason. If people thought last year’s offense was lethal, it will be nothing compared to this year.
The key to the Magic’s success lies in power forward Rashard Lewis stepping up. The magic spent $118 million over six years on Lewis, and he has yet to live up to his contract. During the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals, Lewis averaged a dismal 8.2 PPG. That is not even worth $118, let alone $118 million. The Magic need him to be a spark when other players are struggling from the field and he never rises to the challenge.
Vince Carter looks primed for a comeback season. He shot over 60 percent from the field in the preseason and 59 percent from three-point range. The key, though, is getting away from the pick-and-roll. This means he is taking more shots after catching a pass rather than off the dribble, a much higher percentage shot for any player.
The Magic are becoming an afterthought in the Eastern Conference. Behind the sexy Miami Heat and veteran Celtics, the Magic are not being given a chance to make the Finals, let alone upset the Los Angeles Lakers.
NBA analysts have given up on the Magic. Of ESPN’s top 25 NBA analysts, not one chose the Magic to win the title. Even worse, only two of them picked the Magic to win the East.
Not one. Back-to-back trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, and not one title prediction. If people were to look up the word “underrated” in the dictionary it would say “see Orlando Magic” as the definition.
But none of this matters. With the most dynamic offense in the league, a stingy defense and a sleeper for Most Valuable Player in Howard, the Magic will win the NBA title. ESPN, get ready to be 0-for-25.