Expect Magic-Carpet Ride to NBA Title
Insult them while you can. Orlando and its nose-picking fans will laugh all the way to the NBA championship.
In case you missed it, the Magic just set the Atlanta Hawks franchise back five years. They are 31-5 since the All-Star break. Now they'll sit around, dine at the finest Waffle Houses and Perkins restaurants in the Orlando/Mickey Mouse metropolitan area, and wait for the winner of the Boston-Cleveland series.
All this is news outside the Disney World area code, which has been enraptured in LeBron-Celtics-Kobe-Steve-Nash's-Black-Eye playoff story lines. The thought of Orlando again crashing the NBA Finals is enough to make David Stern bash his face into Tim Duncan's elbow.
Orlando is the league's best team and has been for the past two months. Imagine if the Lakers had gone 27-3 in their past 30 games, swept two playoff series and were winning by an average of about 59.8 points or something ridiculous like that?
Every game would be the lead story on SportsCenter. People would be calling for Stern to simply give L.A. the title by acclimation. Helicopters would be flying over LeBron James' compound to see if he parked his Bentley facing New York City.
It won't be the Lakers who convince James he'll never win a title in Cleveland. It'll be the Celtics or, more likely, the Magic.
"This team is ready for anything," Howard said.
That includes lines like this:
"Their best player, Dwight Howard, cannot push a grocery cart through an aisle or walk across the street on a crosswalk without bowling over three people."
So wrote Bill Simmons, ESPN's famed Sports Guy. The fact is he's wrong. Howard has cut down to two pedestrian casualties every time he gets behind a grocery cart.
One basketball columnist said Orlando's problem is a lack of depth. She apparently thinks Penny Hardaway is still the team's point guard. It's easy to dismiss a team you've never seen, and bashing Orlando is an old and honored tradition dating back to at least 1989.
Miami and Orlando were in a hissing match over which city would be the better NBA town. The Miami Herald unleashed Dave Barry. Orlando stood no chance.
"The point is that things have gotten way out of hand, and it does no good to dwell on whether to blame the good people of Miami, or to the low-forehead, nosepicking yahoos of Orlando."
Twenty-one years later, the courtside seats at the Amway Arena are still largely occupied by people who couldn't carry Jack Nicholson's forehead. The glamor quotient went up when Tiger Woods showed up and spent the game texting (seriously, the only time he looked up was when Howard was dunking or the Magic Dancers were shaking).
Tiger hasn't shown all season. Apparently, there are problems at home or something. So who will ABC's cameras fixate on if the Magic make the Finals?
I don't blame the network for wanting the Lakers to play the Cavaliers or Celtics. I'd rather see that than the Magic-Lakers or, zzzz, the Magic-Suns. And I've been a proud resident of Orlando for 10 years.
It's a fine place to raise kids, raise mosquitoes, play golf and make fun of snowbirds. But I'd rather see LeBron try to bowl over Kobe than Howard bowl over three Lakers every possession.
But what does it matter what I think? The Magic are, you guessed it ...
"On a mission," Howard said.
The accompanying theme is the old "We get no respect." Let's face it, they don't. Orlando has dominated the league for months and it's gotten less attention than LeBron's elbow sleeve.
That's life in the small city. But the Magic showed they aren't a fluke last year, though most people seem to have forgotten they did make the NBA Finals. And this team is much better.
Howard's offense is still far too Mutombo-like, but that's a problem the Magic can overcome. Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter take the scoring pressure off. Yes, that Vince Carter.
He had the predictably erratic regular season, but Vince seems really motivated of late. If he plays like he did against the Hawks, Howard won't need to do much beyond provide his usual 14 rebounds, 15 intimidations and eight missed foul shots per game.
But the real improvement from last year is at point guard. Nelson was an All-Star last season before separating his shoulder. He came back for the Finals, but that turned into far more of a distraction than a bonus.
Orlando has the most balanced scoring attack since (insert Tiger Woods joke here). It has depth. It has the best defense in the NBA.
So will it again ruin the L.A.-Boston or the LeBron-Kobe puppet show everybody wants?
The Celtics they can destroy. As for the Cavs, LeBron is too much of a wild card. He'd be on a mission. Come to think of it, so would the Magic.
As the old saying goes, you can pick your friends, you can pick your nose but you can't pick your NBA finalists.
Orlando's nosepickers may not have many friends. They may well have the NBA champion.