Commentary

Nobody is playing better than Orlando

Originally Published: May 10, 2010
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

Editor's note: This story was updated on May 14.

ATLANTA -- The Orlando Magic are putting together one of the most dominant late-season runs in history, and perhaps it's time we started paying attention. Monday's 98-84 win over Atlanta in Game 4 didn't just put the finishing touches on a laughably one-sided four-game sweep or keep the Magic's playoff record a perfect 8-0 against two overmatched teams.

No, this goes much deeper. Orlando is on a torrid hot streak, and nobody seems to have noticed.

Want to guess the Magic's record in their 30 games since March 1?

Would you believe 27-3?

Yes, 27-3. That's not a typo. That's the Magic's mark on a slate in which 18 of the 30 opponents were playoff teams. And before you dismiss the most recent opposition so easily, remember that the Hawks team they handled so easily won more games than Boston, San Antonio and Portland and as many as Denver and Utah. In fact, the Hawks beat all those teams at least once, as well as the Lakers and Suns, and swept Boston 4-0.

So the Magic have beaten a lot of good teams. Actually, that's an understatement. They aren't just beating people -- they're killing them. Twenty of the 27 wins have been by double figures, and many were one-sided beatdowns -- such as the wins by 43 and 30 over Atlanta in Games 1 and 3. Monday's win, by a mere 14 points, barely moved the needle on their average victory margin.

See whether you can wrap your heads around this one: Orlando has outscored opponents by a whopping 421 points in its past 30 games. To put this into perspective, the Lakers, Suns and Celtics -- who are the three other teams left standing as the conference finals start -- didn't outscore their opposition by 421 points during the entire 82-game regular season, much less in the final 30 games of it.

That's an average of 14 points per game, which simply isn't done over long stretches -- nobody else in the NBA had an average margin even half that size during the regular season.

This isn't run-of-the-mill good, people. This is blow-your-doors-off, hide-the-women-and-children-level domination. The Magic are so good that coach Stan Van Gundy is in danger of running out of things to worry about.

"There were times where we didn't rebound as well as we could," Van Gundy said after a moment of reflection, "but I thought every time we had a problem and pointed it out, our guys made the correction."

So, why aren't we talking about the Magic again? For starters, they're not making themselves a very interesting topic because they're winning so easily. Neither the Atlanta nor the Charlotte series enjoyed much TV discussion, because there wasn't anything worth discussing besides "When will this end?"

Additionally, the Magic don't play in a big market. Plus, their best player is a dominating defender but doesn't have the most refined offensive game, so they don't have the type of marketable star like Kobe or LeBron who would suck in casual fans.

What they do have, however, is the best team in basketball. There can be no serious doubt about this right now, not with the LeBrons failing to get past Boston, and not with the Lakers, however recovered they seem, having lost more times in their past 20 games than Orlando has in its past 40.

Once again on Monday, the catalyst was point guard Jameer Nelson, who has quietly been one of the league's best players in this postseason. He had five buckets and five assists as the Magic ended the first quarter with an 11-point lead, and then he helped put them in total cruise control from there, finishing with 16 points and nine assists.

Much-maligned shooting guard Vince Carter also had a strong game in the closeout special, scoring a game-high 22 points. Although his credentials as a go-to guy have been questioned, it's a completely different -- and scary -- story when he's the third or fourth option spotting up on the weak side. On Monday he made 4 of his 7 3-point attempts.

"We just shot the ball extremely well," said Van Gundy, whose team made 16 3-pointers "It would have been very tough for anybody to beat us the way we shot the ball."

The Magic now face Boston on five days' rest.

"The one thing about playoff basketball is you have to get beyond the last series," Van Gundy said. "It has no meaning on the series coming up."

Nonetheless, the Magic have to like their position heading into the conference finals. They're healthy, they're rested and they're on a roll that few teams in history have ever been on.

"I don't think you ever expect that [dominance]," Van Gundy said. "The thing that we've been the best at is our guys bring it every night. So if we're better than you, we're going to win, we're not going to let up and get beat by a team we shouldn't lose to. Every round that gets harder, because you're not necessarily better. But our team has been good with that."

If so, it's a scary proposition for Boston and whoever comes out of the West. Because the preponderance of evidence suggests the Magic are better than anybody right now.

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