Over the next few days, Basket Bawful and Free Darko will be previewing each NBA Playoff series. Basket Bawful looks at the Eastern Conference today, continuing with the series between the Toronto Raptors and the Orlando Magic, which begins Sunday.
This is more like it! The Boston and Detroit series are pretty much in the bag already, unless an angry God decides to suck Kevin Garnett and the Pistons' starting five into an alternate dimension full of giant, angry wombats. But this matchup could actually be competitive.
The season series: The Magic won it 2-1.
Good news for the Raptors: The first game between these two teams was close all the way. The dinos won the second game in a blowout. They got blown out in the third game, but Chris Bosh didn't play because of an injury. All of which means that, on paper, the two teams were pretty evenly matched ... but with a slight edge to Toronto.
Bad news for the Raptors: The Magic went on a mini-run at the end of the season, winning three in a row and taking five of their last seven. More important, their guards performed well (particularly Maurice Evans), and the reserves even got some meaningful PT in the season finale (J.J. Redick and Marcin Gortat both had career-highs in points). And a little confidence going into the postseason is always a good thing.
Reality check: Toronto is heading into the playoffs with all the breakneck momentum of a fat person who has grown so morbidly obese their body has actually become fused to the furniture. I'm going to let you think about that one for a minute. Disgusted? Good. Now let's move on.
The Raps finished the season by losing two of their last three games — including a huge setback to Detroit's bench while they were fighting for playoff position and the Pistons were just coasting along — and the one win was against the
Miami Heat. Overall, Toronto has gone 9-17 over their last 26 games, which doesn't just seem bad. It is bad.
Magic player(s) to watch: Dwight Howard, for one. First of all: Dunk city, baby! Second, and more important: Defense. We know Superman is going to score and rebound, but he's also got to defend the paint and guard Chris Bosh on the perimeter. That won't be easy. Also, Orlando's guards — Jameer Nelson and Maurice Evans — probably need to start producing at some point. This is as good a time as any.
Raptors player(s) to keep an eye on: Chris Bosh proved in February that he can use and abuse Dwight Howard...under the right circumstances. And did you know that Rasho Nesterovic can opt out of his contract this summer? Well, he can. Which, in effect, makes this season a contract year for him. And, wouldn't you know it, he's been on fire lately! Never underestimate the heart of somebody who's playing for a contract. Also, T.J. Ford could ruin everything if he tries to go all "2005-06 Kobe" (without the talent) on the Magic.
Key(s) to the series: The guard play. Now that Nesterovic is on a roll and Jamario Moon has arrived, the opposing frontcourts should pretty much cancel each other out (with a slight edge going to Orlando). This means that T.J. Ford and his backup (who really should be starting) Jose Calderon need to get their boys easy shots while scoring efficiently themselves. Shouldn't be a problem for Jose — who has 66 assists and only 1 turnover in April! — but watching T.J. play is always an adventure. And not one of those fun jungle adventures where you find a golden skull and save the girl of your dreams from a giant gorilla while narrowly escaping a bunch of poison-dart-shooting natives.
Prediction: I'm thinking Orlando wins this one 4-1. The Raptors are good at home (25-16), but the Magic are even better than that on the road (27-14). However, if the irrational enthusiasm of the Toronto fanbase has any effect whatsoever, this series could go the full seven. But I doubt it.