Even with big win over Lakers, we still haven't seen Orlando Magic at their best
Note: This is the first post by Michael Gavin, the newest member of the writing staff at Orlando Magic Daily. Michael works for Newsday in New York and is a lifelong Magic fan. -ZM. Could it be that the Lakers and Cavaliers' ceilings, although high, may prove to be slightly lower than that of Orlando’s? Even with the second best record in the East and third best in the league, there is a sense that we are yet to see the Magic play their best basketball. With Sunday’s impressive 96-94 win over the Lakers, the Magic improved to 8-2 since the All-Star break and stand one blown 18-point lead at New Orleans from an eight-game win streak. Dwight Howard is adding to his offensive arsenal, Vince Carter is becoming more acclimated to the offense, Jameer Nelson is regaining All-Star form, and most surprising of all, Stan Van Gundy is improving his in-game interviews. Opponents are shooting 43.6% for 95.5 points per game, numbers that are approaching last year’s 43.3% and 94.4 points per game. All is well in the Magic Kingdom but things could get even better with time. Even after incorporating two new starters and key reserves, the Magic stand just four games off last season’s pace. The Lakers may have added Ron Artest – who seems to spend more time at the barber than he does working on his jumper – and the Cavs added Shaquille O’Neal and Antawn Jamison, but all were acquired with clearly defined roles. This is a luxury that Carter, who has only just begun to find offensive balance in a lineup that features three All-Stars, did not have. Despite their success, the Magic are still a work in progress as they continue to familiarize themselves with one another and juggle with the rotation to establish clearly-defined roles heading into the postseason. The Cavs have strategically assembled their roster to overcome the weaknesses the Magic exploited in last year’s conference finals. The Lakers have a frontline that can give the Magic fits over the course of a series. But the team that may give the Magic the most trouble in a seven-game series is the Magic themselves. At times, Orlando has shown a tendency to be its own worst enemy. They still must learn to do a better job of protecting the ball to cut down on turnovers, which in turn will help them close out teams and protect leads, something they have struggled with all season. They need to consistently get the ball to Howard early and often to establish their inside-out game. They need to force Carter to attack the rim and get to the free throw line rather than settle for ill-advised perimeter jumpers. They need Nelson to distribute at the pace we have seen post-All-Star break. With each game that passes, the Magic gain another 48 minutes of cohesiveness as they slowly iron out the flaws that show their ugly faces when incorporating new pieces to a championship-caliber team. They will only get better with each game and could be on schedule to peek when such timely progression can transition a contender to champion. Right now, the Magic have room for improvement. But by June, they may be making room for a new banner.