Cohen: Chronicling the Magic's Season

By Josh Cohen
May 2, 2011


After watching all 4,585 minutes (95 total games) of each Orlando Magic preseason, regular season and postseason game, I decided to analyze each segment of the team’s 2010-11 season.

THE OFFSEASON

It was a difficult time to be a team over the salary cap with so many marquee free agents available last summer. Especially with big market franchises including New York, Chicago and Miami well under the cap, it was inevitable that the Eastern Conference would get significantly stronger.

When all the pens ran out of ink, LeBron James and Chris Bosh decided to join Dwyane Wade in Miami, Amar’e Stoudemire opted to sign with New York, Carlos Boozer relocated to The Windy City and Joe Johnson remained with Atlanta.

The Orlando Magic, meanwhile, only had the financial flexibility to sign a couple of role players to try and bolster their supporting cast. They landed on Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon.

For the remainder of the summer after each team made their additions and subtractions, the big talk was about the newly formed and quickly evolving Sunshine State rivalry.

There was some unprecedented excitement around Florida. For the first time since both the Magic and Heat were born more than 20 years ago, both organizations were championship contenders at the same time.


THE PRESEASON

While Magic fans were introduced to the state-of-the-art Amway Center, they also were presented with a team that had exceptional chemistry and focus.

With essentially the same roster that reached the conference finals from a season ago, Orlando looked like a club that had a major depth advantage over all opponents. In fact, the Magic dominated the competition in the preseason – going undefeated (7-0) and winning by remarkable margins of 54 against New Orleans, 38 against Chicago, 29 at Atlanta and 25 versus Dallas.

While most observers expected the Heat and Celtics to be the favorites to come out of the East, some believed the Magic – based on cohesion, balance and profundity – were ready to take the next step and become world champions.


THE LEARNING STAGE

When the regular season began, it was time to find out exactly what the Magic were in comparison to the other elite teams in the league.

The most noticeable facet of the team was the evolvement of Dwight Howard’s offensive repertoire. Unlike years past, Howard showcased an array of moves that clearly separated him from all other centers in the NBA.

Also evident was the team’s resilience – largely because of Jameer Nelson’s ability to deliver in the critical moments of a game. In consecutive Saturdays in November, Nelson buried game-winning shots in New Jersey and Indiana.

Promising as well was the development of Brandon Bass, who after barely playing last season was emerging as a legitimate quality power forward.

Orlando was 14-4 after thrashing Chicago on Dec. 1 and it appeared the Magic were headed in the right direction.


THE STOMACH VIRUS EPIDEMIC

At a time when it seemed the Magic were about to secure their supremacy in the East, a bewildering illness practically destroyed that goal.

One by one, players, including Howard, Nelson, J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson and Mickael Pietrus, dealt with the malevolent stomach virus.

Though Vince Carter and Bass’ extraordinary performances in Detroit on Dec. 3 momentarily uplifted the team, fairly quickly that optimism vanished and the team started to spiral downwards.

Even when everyone had returned, it appeared the Magic were out of sync as they lost five of six and rumblings began about possible changes to the roster.

Josh Cohen



THE BLOCKBUSTER TRADES

Not convinced the team as currently constructed was capable of competing for a championship, President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith decided to shake up the roster and sign off on two separate deals.

In one transaction, Orlando re-acquired fan favorite Hedo Turkoglu and also received Jason Richardson and Earl Clark from Phoenix in exchange for Carter, Marcin Gortat and Pietrus.

In a separate move – one that certainly generated more stir and controversy – the Magic acquired Gilbert Arenas from Washington for Rashard Lewis.

There was so much chatter around the league as to whether these moves would benefit the Magic in the long run. Some were in favor of the deals, while others weren’t as convinced.


THE SURGE FORWARD

It didn’t take long for the revamped Magic to flourish.

Almost immediately after the deals, Orlando notched nine straight victories. Turkoglu, who struggled during his short tenure with both Toronto and Phoenix, initially thrived and some wondered if he would be added to the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Hedo racked up a triple-double in a contest against Golden State and a career-best 17 assists in a triumph in Dallas.

It was very apparent that Orlando was playing well because of its scoring balance. During their winning stretch, the Magic featured between five and seven players in double figures each game.

Though there were still plenty of uncertainties facing the Magic, including not having a backup center and not possessing many lockdown defenders, it seemed Orlando was on track to rejoin the other premier teams of the East.


THE UNCERTAINTY ARRIVES

After racking up nine straight wins, the Magic were set to adventure on their first major road trip since Dec. 18’s blockbuster trades. Many saw this trip as an eye-opening test to determine whether Orlando was ready to challenge teams like the Celtics and Heat.

Though very competitive in each of the games, Orlando dropped three of the four contests on the voyage, including a heartbreaking overtime loss in New Orleans, a thrilling offensive-minded affair in Oklahoma City and a riveting back-and-forth nailbiter in Boston.

For the first time since the deals, Orlando’s prime weaknesses, including their lack of size up front and insufficiency to persistently attack the basket and get to the free throw line, were highlighted.

Yet, because of Howard’s outstanding dominance and valuable contributions from others including J-Rich and Redick, there was still a certain degree of optimism circulating around the Magic locker room.


THE STRETCH TO THE FINISH LINE

Every day from late January to mid April there was a different analysis of the Magic. On some nights, you couldn’t help but praise Orlando (ex. the miracle win over Philadelphia, the implausible comeback victory over Miami, the governing triumph over former teammates in Phoenix). On other nights, you couldn’t help but be baffled by the Magic (ex. home losses to Detroit and Sacramento).

Heading into the playoffs, you just didn’t know what to expect. It was very apparent that Howard was as dominant as he had ever been before. But it was also evident that Arenas was still struggling mightily as he tried to recover from all of his knee problems and that Turk had suddenly taken a major step backwards after such a splendid first month back in Orlando.

Orlando was battling a variety of injury issues, including a peculiar abdominal injury that forced Redick to miss the final 17 games of the regular season.

Knowing that they would be the No. 4 seed for the last three weeks of the regular season and recognizing that they would likely play the Hawks in a rematch of last season’s conference semifinals, it just felt like Orlando was just trying to cruise to the finish line.


THE UNEXPECTED FIRST ROUND EXIT

When the playoffs began, it almost felt like a foregone conclusion that the Magic would advance to the conference semifinals for a highly anticipated showdown with the Bulls.

But, the Hawks, who were embarrassed last year after getting swept by the Magic by an average margin of 25 points per game, went into the postseason with a completely different level of confidence.

With a new coach, new tactics and more favorable positional matchups, the Hawks quickly demonstrated that this season would be nothing like last.

Behind phenomenal performances from both Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson, Atlanta stole home court advantage away from Orlando and suddenly there were some serious concerns for the Magic.

After evening up the series in Game 2, the Magic realized that they needed to win just once in Atlanta to regain control of the series.

But timely scoring from Atlanta’s assortment of guards disallowed Orlando from ever earning that required road win and the Hawks ultimately prevailed in six games.


THE FUTURE

It will be fascinating to see what the Magic try to do this offseason in an effort to bounce back and return to championship-level form.

Except for J-Rich, everyone on the Magic’s roster is under contract for next season. Since Richardson was very valuable to Orlando since his arrival, it’s certainly possible that Otis will try and re-sign him to a long-term deal.

Otherwise, if there are any changes to the Magic those alterations will likely come in the form of trades.

Only time will tell what the 2011-12 Orlando Magic will look like.

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