Saturday, April 28, 2012

Earl Clark is Your Series X-Factor


No, I'm not talking about the singing show. Earl went from being stuck in China to slowly but surely becoming a key role player off Stan Van Gundy's bench. Daniel Orton may be designated as back-up center. But don't be fooled, Earl is going to get a good chunk of minutes guarding Roy Hibbert. Earl has the energy level to be a terror on each end. Earl will find himself competing against two other 'energy' players: Amundson and Psycho T. He can average 3 blocks with ease if he gets just 20 minutes. When Clark commits himself to crashing the boards, and passes up jumpers for higher percentage lay-ups and attempts, great things happen for this team. If Earl doesn't settle then this is going to be a hell of a series. The Magic won the regular season series 3-1 versus Indy. Yes, Dwight played in each game. Yes, our only loss came with Chris Duhon starting. However, look at our first matchup in late January. Dwight had a very mediocre game, yet we still crushed the Pacers in Bankers FieldHouse. How? Earl Clark's defensive presence at center and the spark provided that was instilled in every Magic player on the court and bench. Examine the play-by-play. We're down 22-29 when Earl comes into the game in the 2nd quarter. We finish that half tied 45-45 with Earl playing most of that period. Earl spurred on the momentum swing. When Clark comes back in late in the 3rd period with the Magic up 69-60, he helps extend the lead to double digits. Indy was at full strength here and Ryno was our leading scorer. This should be the blueprint for the series. The Pacers are a deep team, but we can be as well if guys like Earl elevate themselves. Here's a nice little Yahoo! preview with quotes. Offense won't be the problem. We've managed more than well without D12 on that end. All about defense and camouflaging the fact we don't have the best defender in basketball at our services.  


Glen Davis has to somehow remain relatively healthy and mighty effective with Game 1 approaching. Swollen ankle or not, Baby's a gamer and will fight through the pain and discomfort. Glen is one of our main locker room leaders (a remarkable turnaround from 2 months ago). Unfortunately, Big Baby stands little chance of impeding Hibbert, no matter how physical he gets with Roy. I think foul trouble will play a huge role for him and Ryno (that's where Earl comes in). I can see Glen focusing more of his defensive time and effort on David West. West sneakily has raised his scoring average towards the conclusion of the season. Frank Vogel definitely wants West to be one of his main offensive weapons. I think Vogel secretly doesn't have much faith in Granger providing a scoring punch. 


Speaking of Mr. Anderson, the Ryan King has to find a away to average a 20-10 in this series. It's a far cry from his disastrous Hawks series last year. This go-around, Ryan also has a lot of money on the line. Most people outside of Orlando still think Ryno isn't as good without Dwight. Prove them wrong on the national stage and shut them up. If Ryan ends up being our leading scorer and we somehow knock off Indy, it's possibly $10 million (instead of $7-8) per year that will be thrown at him from a few teams come free agency time. The decision to match that offer sheet will be extremely difficult to make, especially with no General Manager or Head Coach certainty hovering over every single thought process the franchise makes going forward. Back to Indy, Ryno has to just continue to show the same tenacity in the paint that he has most of this season. If he does that, the 3-point looks will come. 


It's really unfair to put a lot of pressure on Daniel Orton. After all, I was there in New Orleans in late February watching the young Kentucky Wildcat finally touch the parquet. But the Magic didn't pick up Dansanity's player option. Now Orton finds himself battling for an NBA contract. A decent showing against the Pacers' frontcourt will certainly earn him a few phone calls. Who knows if we'll try and re-sign him, but Daniel's progress is certainly encouraging to watch. He still has hands worse than Rony Seikaly and Adonal Foyle combined, but he's in decent shape and has widened my eyes a bit at a few offensive moves he's converted on. Also, Orton sets picks better than Dwight. No doubt about it. Howard never sets himself and just uses his elbows to open up room. Orton actually puts a body on the guy he's screening. Also, Daniel's knack for rebounding (boxes out better than Dwight) and positioning is as outstanding as Ryno's is on the offensive end. Orton will be tested often. I have no clue if he can hang with Roy, but hey, this is how you earn your paycheck. 


SVG has done a great job keeping his secretly of 'Will Hedo start or not?' I doubt it throws Vogel off because it's really tough not seeing Maskoglu start after such a great return in Memphis on Thursday. Turk drove to the paint once against the Grizzlies. Every shot attempt Maskoglu had came from the outside. Yet, he miraculously shot 7-of-13 with Rudy Gay in his face each time. Turkey Dance having to guard Rudy Gay was superb practice for keeping up with Danny Granger. I'm saying Hedo has to be clutch in this series, but he can't be a detrimental pain in the ass. Hedo must assist Jameer and Duhon give flow to the game. A 'veteran' can be viewed in a positive or waning light. Let's see which way Hedo ends up. The Grizzlies game should give us hope. 


Jameer is gimpy. We know this, our opponent knows this, and it really doesn't matter because Nelson is long at a point in his career where he's dealt with injuries and still managed to raise his performances in every postseason since his '09 NBA Finals return that I'd rather not continue to mention right now. He's the sole captain now since the other captain is in L.A. rehabbing. Nelson, since his St. Joe's days, has been one of the best lead-by-example guys in basketball. He won't yell at you, but the way Jameer carries himself demands the respect of his teammates. Nelson needs to get dribble penetration. I don't care if he has to dribble around for 20 seconds, eventually someone (or the bucket) will open up. Mighty Mite has his hands full with the quicker and more athletic Darren Collison and George Hill. Nelson is playing for one final great NBA contract. Whether that's in Orlando or not, we don't know. But Jameer has been in the underdog role since the NBA Draft. He's had an admirable career up to this point, and Magic fans need to rely on a fantastic series from Mighty Mite. 


Chris Duhon's ankles are on notice. And every Magic fan will be reaching for the aspirin and TUMS until Stan realizes that he needs Ish in there. I hope it doesn't take longer than 2 games for SVG to realize that Chris is pure rubbish. Back when he had to look over his back at Larry Hughes earlier in the year, Duhon wasn't actually half bad. But Chris is back to his usual disastrous levels. That 3-ball isn't going down as often as in January either. When/if Ish does get the call, Mr. Smith will have to penetrate at will. No jumpers unless wide open by a 10-foot radius, and always seeking the open man like we no Ish can do. A few ankle-breakers wouldn't hurt either. Ish is fighting for his long-term NBA career as well.


J.J. Redick can play worse than Duhon and we'd still pick up his option this summer. I just can't depend on J-Rich showing up. Jason has been so injured so many times that I can't keep count. Richardson's legs are shot. Worse than his decreasing hops is him forgetting how to display jumper consistency. The best thing Jason can do is cut early and often to the basket. I'm not optimistic though. And so I look to the man who makes more money than Jason, Mr. Redick. J.J.'s underrated ability to be unselfish yet still get his points is paramount in winning the backcourt matchup. Redick, like Jameer, must find a balance between attacking the rack and settling for that open jumper which will present itself often because SVG's system always provides open looks. I have no idea how we're going to stop Paul George. He's so tall yet athletic enough that he can indeed play shooting guard. Also, Leandro Barbosa will give me nightmares in one of these games because that's what he does to us Magic fans. 


Q-Rich looks to be healthy. That's bad news for Danny Granger who will see a lot of Quentin in his face. If QQQ can just knock down the occasional open 3 and play the same tough-nose defense that he's displayed against the likes of LeBron and Paul Pierce, then we'll be all for the better. DeAndre Liggins being inactive means Q will be our main 'All-Star' stopper. Von Wafer will steal minutes from Q-Rich if the DePaul veteran becomes ineffective on both ends. Wafe God is lightning in a bottle and will need to spark our guys when called upon. I admire Von's commitment to playing the role of distributor when he drives into that paint of late.


I'm really proud to see Justin Harper get a lot of time in our regular season finale in Memphis. You could see the Richmond product had some rough goings in the 1st half. Second half however saw Harper start banging around in the paint more, and attacking the rim similarly to how he found his groove at Strasbourg. The 2-for-8 3-point shooting is a bit scary, but let the kid get comfortable. 16 points and 7 rebounds is still a great stat line for him considering this was his first game of seeing a lot of court time.


Give me Magic in 6. If for nothing else, because LITERALLY no one on ESPN and other well known national outlets are giving us a chance to even push this to seven games. It's Blue & White Ignite time, folks. The Pacers have the pressure of dispatching of a 'crippled' squad. There's a reason why Frank Vogel isn't making bold statements or predictions. He knows this is a dangerous situation. I yearn for SVG to prove to the rest of the league that a top 5 coach can keep a team together through the craziest and depressing of injuries and blowout losses. Lastly, it must be said but I am disappointed in our franchise not sponsoring any watch parties or giving out free playoff t-shirts for the first time in years. Not cool, guys. It hasn't helped that most of the fair weather fans have already given up. That's ok, they'll be back on the bandwagon soon. We've got plenty of room. 

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