Cohen Courtside: Magic vs. Wizards (1/4/12)
By Josh Cohen
January 4, 2012
In Cohen Courtside, Josh Cohen examines the state of the Orlando Magic after games this season. He will tackle sidebar storylines and focus on topics that stretch far beyond the box score. There will also be some analysis on league-wide subjects.
ORLANDO -- On one end, you had a team who effectively shared the ball, remained poised, were committed to playing stifling defense and took advantage of every individual matchup.
On the other end, you had a team without much rhythm, sometimes acted selfishly and resembled a collection of talent that needed more training camp time to develop further chemistry.
The former described the Magic, who thrashed the latter, the Wizards, on Wednesday to the tune of 18 points.
A drastic contrast from Orlando’s disappointing performance in Detroit on Monday, this victory was virtually over in the first few minutes.
Dwight Howard was supreme – finishing with 28 points and 20 rebounds for his second 20-20 effort this season. Ryan Anderson also enjoyed another spectacular outing with 23 points and 15 rebounds. And perhaps more importantly, the Magic’s starting backcourt, Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson, each delivered solid performances, particularly in the first half when Orlando built a comfortable cushion.
"We have a lot of unselfish guys," said Hedo Turkoglu, who contributed to eight of the Magic's 27 assists. "We start with Dwight first, then see what he's going to do and play through that."
It was appropriate that both the Magic and Chicago Bulls each stomped all over their recent opponents with a showdown between two of the East’s elite set for Friday at Amway Center.
It will be the first time this season that a championship contender will visit Orlando. Since playing the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Christmas Day, the Magic had squared off against six straight teams that did not advance to the playoffs last season. Orlando was 5-1 in this stretch.
A win against the Bulls would solidify the Magic as a true power in the East and alarm the other premier teams in the conference that they have bounced back from last season’s First Round playoff exit.
It feels like yesterday that Rashard Lewis was regarded as a justifiable top 15-20 player in the NBA.
Especially during and immediately after the Orlando Magic’s epic NBA Finals run in 2009, Sweet Lew, as he was affectionately nicknamed, became eminent for his clutch shooting and inimitable skills.
A total dissimilarity from the other elite power forwards, the two-time NBA All-Star often outmatched his opponents with his unassailable adaptability.
When you watch him today, however – a little over a year since he was traded to Washington – Lewis doesn’t at all resemble the guy who sometimes single-handedly catapulted the Magic to big playoff wins.
It leads us all to wonder, what happened?
It was evident in the month-and-a-half last season prior to the deal, Lewis looked rather deflated and ineffective. His shot, which for so long seemed automatic, was erratic and he couldn’t make the transition back to small forward when Stan Van Gundy wanted to go with a bigger lineup.
It’s not completely scarce for All-Star caliber players to recede in production after they hit 30 years of age, especially for those who entered the NBA directly out of high school like Rashard did.
But to fall so rapidly, so significantly and without much precise reason is somewhat peculiar.
Injuries often rationalize considerable decreases in production. Lewis has had some knee problems recently, but nothing completely out of the ordinary for guys who have been in the league as long as he has.
Is Washington’s system and strategy denying ‘Shard from being more effective? It’s certainly possible with the Wizards lack of ball movement.
It would have been appropriate in many ways for Lewis to remain in Orlando for the rest of his career as a result of his contributions in the three-plus seasons he was here.
But unfortunately, his sudden drop in success along with his massive contract made that a dubious desire.
Hopefully Lewis finds a way to restore his game to what we all know it should be. He will always be a fan favorite here in Orlando.
While this truncated season is only 10 days young and though it may be premature to assume anything, projecting which teams will advance to the playoffs and which will participate in the draft lottery seems rather straightforward in the Eastern Conference.
Naturally, NBA rituals such as trades and injuries can deflect expectations. However, is there any skepticism that a repeat of the same eight playoffs teams in the East from last season will return to the postseason this year?
Excluding any unforeseen downfalls or drastic roster changes by the trade deadline, it seems rather irrefutable that Miami, Orlando, Chicago, Boston and New York are locks to join the dance.
Moreover, with the addition of David West and a further developed starting lineup, Indiana sure appears to be on its way.
Meanwhile, despite the subtraction of Jamal Crawford in Atlanta, the Hawks still look formidable behind All-Stars Joe Johnson and Al Horford. And with Doug Collins guiding the extremely athletic, fast-moving Sixers, it would be somewhat of a surprise if Philadelphia doesn’t proceed to the playoffs again.
No disrespect to the remaining seven teams from the East not mentioned, but do any have a legitimate chance of advancing to the playoffs?
With Scott Skiles in charge, Milwaukee may have the best shot considering its defensive commitment. With up-and-coming stars such as John Wall, JaVale McGee and Jordan Crawford, Washington may have the talent to astound some people as the season marches forward. What about Charlotte, Cleveland, Toronto, New Jersey or Detroit?
Well, the Pistons, who showed some progression in their win over the Magic on Monday, probably could become a threat if Ben Gordon can become more reliable and consistent. The Raptors, similarly, are evolving into an exciting team because of the maturation from their young stars like Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan.
Though anticipating which teams in the East will go to the playoffs may seem forthright, predicting seedings is much more intricate to do.
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