John Hollinger’s latest number-crunching has me thinking one thought: This year’s Orlando Magic are a lot like last season’s Cleveland Cavaliers. (ESPNBoston)
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 their mark in 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 of those teams at least once, as well as the Lakers and Suns, and swept Boston 4-0.
So the Magic have beat 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, barely moved the needle on their average victory margin.
See if you can wrap your heads around this one: Orlando has outscored opponents by a whopping 421 points over its past 30 games. To put this in perspective, the Lakers, Suns and Celtics — who could be the other three teams left standing when the conference finals start next week — didn’t outscore the opposition by 421 points over the entirety of the 82-game regular season, much less in the final 30 games of it.
Just like the ’09 Cavaliers, the Magic have become favorites without ever winning anything. Just like those Cavs, these Magic entered the postseason as juggernauts and swept the first two playoff rounds in dominant fashion. Just like those Cavs, sweeping the first two rounds had as much to the with the opponent as it did with the Magic. The Atlanta Hawks had issues, serious issues, that revealed themselves when Atlanta barely escaped a Bogut-less Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. On top of those issues, the Hawks matched up atrociuously with Orlando — the Hawks’ biggest strength is an athletic and energetic frontline, a strength that was completely nullified by the presence of Dwight Howard. And Orlando’s other playoff opponent, the Bobcats, were a weak squad appearing in the playoffs for the first time ever. Just like last year’s Cavs, the Magic rumbled through two rounds just like they should have. Those Cavs’ fate? A quick and punishing defeat in the Eastern Conference Finals, to last season’s Magic. Will Orlando face a similar early exit?
Granted, the Magic have played unbelievably lately and deserve to be praised for their first- and second-round sweeps. They are talented and deep. But let’s not crown them yet. Let’s see how they handle a legitimate championship contender first. And the Celtics, after a year of pretending they weren’t, can now be considered just that.