Magic’s Future Gets Clearer… or Murkier

The NBA will officially release the NBA schedule and Orlando will learn exactly when and where the team will face Miami and Boston, when the team makes its West Coast trips and where any potential hiccups in the schedule might be.

In other words, tomorrow is Stan Van Gundy’s favorite day of the year. Do you really think his complaints get made up on the spot? He has to start planning them now before he gets mired into the details of the regular season.

The schedule’s release will start to clear the waters for the 2010-11 season and shed some light on what will be in story for the next 10 months. Not too early for a little predicting, right?

Do not worry, ESPN has got you covered.

The experts — or “experts” — at ESPN have begun to roll out their pre-pre-preseason preview of the NBA season. Monday, it was the prediction of the Eastern Conference. Yes, Miami is number one (no surprise). Orlando comes in at number two. And that should not be surprising.

What should be surprising is Jeff Van Gundy’s comments about how good the Heat could be this year: “They will break the single-season win record (of 72),” Jeff Van Gundy told the Miami Herald. “And I think they have a legit shot at the Lakers’ 33-game (winning) streak (in 1971-72), as well. And only the Lakers have even a remote shot at beating them in a playoff series. They will never lose two games in a row this year. They have put together a much better roster than anybody could ever have expected. There is now no good way to defend them. They are unguardable. They are indefensible. They are just too good and have added so much shooting and are so versatile that they will score at will.”

Pretty glowing praise from Van Gundy’s brother — and a former Pat Riley assistant coach. The scary part (or sad part) is there are lots of people (including several Magic fans) who think the Heat could do this.

ESPN has Miami finishing with a very reasonable 61 wins and the top of the Eastern Conference (and the Southeast Division crown for the first time in four years). Orlando is right behind with 56 wins. That would be a solid season for the Magic, even though it would be three wins less than last year.

“The Magic stumbled vs. the Celtics in the East finals, but this is much the same team that won five series the past two postseasons,” ESPN’s Royce Webb and Matt Wong write. “Orlando might have some magical maneuvers left, perhaps shipping out Vince Carter and/or finding a way to get Chris Paul. Until then, given Miami’s summer, Orlando reverts to dangerous sleeper status.”

So the Magic are back to being the sleeper. I do not think that is necessarily a bad thing.Orlando played a lot better as an underdog in 2009 and the team sort of struggled as favorites and expectations may have weighed the team down.

Either way, the Magic or the Heat will have to eventually go through the Celtics. They are the Eastern Conference Champions until further notice and deserve every team’s respect and full attention — the NBA seems to think so pitting Orlando against Boston on Christmas and MLK Day and Boston and Miami on Opening Night.

ESPN’s articles has the Celtics going for 51 wins. But as we all know, the regular season does not necessarily matter to Boston.

But back to Jeff Van Gundy. Could Miami be that record-breaking good?

Who knows? They could. But that good? Not likely.

You have to remember those 1996 Bulls had played together for half a season before their record run and had a revenge-minded Michael Jordan. They also had one hell of a supporting cast. Steve Kerr, who would play a key role in those finals and the 1997 and 1998 Finals, came off the bench. Will Perdue, Bill Wennington and Luc Longley all played their role at center and got no credit for it. Toni Kukoc came off the bench.

In other words, those Bulls teams were one hell of a team. Team being the operative term.

Not to say the Heat, will not be good. ESPN and anyone else making predictions on the NBA should make Miami number one. On pure talent, the Heat are probably the best team in the East.

So where does that leave Orlando? Probably the same place everyone else thinks they are. The Magic are most likely the second best team in the East and one of maybe four teams with a realistic shot at winning a championship.

Just when you think things will get clearer, something muddles it up. Guess we will have to wait until October to really start answering these questions.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily