Friday, April 27, 2012

Show Me Another Wacky Lockout Postseason

A 66-game season is a hell of a lot lengthier than 50 games, but the '99 Lockout postseason and potentially these upcoming playoffs both have had similar journeys that preceded them: Compact schedules, short training camps, exhausted players, depleted patience among many coaches and rosters, and quite the vast amount of injuries that appear above normal than your usual 82-game campaign. Obviously there's no sample size to back up the possibility of an improbable #8 seed-like NBA Finals run, but you have to wonder how much some title-seeking teams have held back this season than normal?

I am looking at that Eastern Conference #6 versus #3 first round matchup. Because, well let's be honest, that's where the Magic find themselves. Facing off against a very consistent #3 seed Pacers. If Indiana was not facing Orlando, Indy would be touted as the Eastern Conference version of the Spurs in regards to being underrated despite a solid season. Frank Vogel's squad has been rewarded for beating the teams they should have beaten this season. Home court advantage is the supposed reward. In '99, the #3 seed Magic got embarrassed by a clearly superior #6 Sixers squad. That upset officially ended our first phenomenal era of championship contending. This time around, Orlando is looking to play the role of spoiler in hopes of avoiding yet another conclusion to a great multiple-year run. A gasp to avoid hitting another reset button. Last season, injuries to guys like Jameer, Redick, Jason Richardson, and Brandon Bass opened the door for Atlanta to send us packing way too soon.

2011-2012 has just been ridiculously unlucky on an entirely different scale. The Dwight Howard chaos that's been ongoing since the summer, has finally now shifted to Superman's having a herniated disc and missing the postseason. Giving more opportunity for national media bashing. Otis Smith's impending firing (We're still waiting, Devos family) after a steady decline from the '09 Finals trip. For God's sake, Otis, you don't have to accept every single interview request. Bob Vander Weide's humiliating resignation. Stan Van Gundy's stress levels causing him to have a minor heart attack and eventually spilling the beans of Dwight's demand to have him canned.

Glen Davis had to adjust to a new team only to hit a few slumps, get booed by fans, have his grandmother and father die, get suspended, play like an All-Star as a starter, dealing with a sprained knee heading into Game 1, and somehow ending up being the face of roster while delivering the Fan Appreciation Night speech to the Amway Center patrons. Jason Richardson has been injured and playing the worst basketball of his professional career. Jameer Nelson is a walking concussion that makes hockey and football players squeamish. Ryan Anderson has been hurt and is currently shooting terribly. Hedo Turkoglu is back as the Phantom of the Pizza, as Turkey Dance would prefer to give away his daughter than wear the mask he's currently sporting. Chris Duhon is better than '10-'11, but still terrifies every Magic fan whenever he puts the ball on the court or even contemplates passing. Duhon, the Magic's player representative who helped negotiate the new CBA, was suspended for missing practice time. 

That's just on-the-court personnel. FSN and SUN Sports television play-by-play man Matt Guokas has had numerous surgeries. Pat Williams, one of the most important Magic figures in the franchise's history, is continuing his strenuous battle with cancer. Even AM 580 WDBO radio announcer Richie Adubato has sat out with illnesses such as laryngitis. This is absolutely astounding. Good news though, we're not going to fold. We could have folded a month ago. Nope. Last week. Nope. The fighting spirit in everyone and the unbelievable optimism makes things hard not to show faith in these guys. 

Guys like Ish Smith, DeAndre Liggins (Inactive going into Game 1), Earl Clark, Von Wafer, Daniel Orton, and now Justin Harper have had bright spots and legitimate playing time opportunities at some point in this 2nd half of the season. SVG will have to seriously contemplate giving these guys postseason burn. Our starting lineup lacks the ridiculously spry athleticism that those young guns provide. Stan needs to be ready to get risky when a shake-up becomes an obvious need. This is Orlando's sixth straight season of reaching the playoffs, and the 5th straight in the Stan Van Gundy era. 

This team seriously has no postseason pressure. Outsiders' false over-dramatization of our franchise's supposed locker room panicking these past few weeks is laughable when the ESPNs and NBATVs 'analyze' this series. It all begins in Indianapolis, Saturday night at 7 p.m. EST. For now, everything is calm and everyone is apparently loose according to Magic beat writers. I believe them. I also believe that for various reasons, not necessarily monetary, several individual Magic men have a lot riding on superb postseason performances. No one outside of Orlando is expecting anything from the Magic. That's fine by me. Historically, SVG teams do damn well flying under the radar. 

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