Stan Van Gundy gave Orlando the day off Saturday. It was the second day off he gave his team during an eight-day layoff between the team’s sweep of Charlotte and its Game One matchup with Atlanta and Milwaukee on Tuesday. The practices since then have come off as mixed.
Van Gundy thought the team competed hard and played well during a scrimmage-filled practice that tried to simulate a game. Friday’s practice did not go as well as he would have hoped as focus waned and the team began to feel the monotony of having so much time off between games.
Don’t confuse it though for a lack of focus. The Magic know they will have to step up the intensity in the second round no matter who it is they play. Van Gundy will be sure they will be prepared.
Around this time every year, NBA watchers wonder whether rest will help a team or hurt them. Undoubtedly Orlando will have to knock off some rust in Game One on Tuesday night. Atlanta and Milwaukee will be coming out of a difficult series with a focused mind — or a relieved one.
The Magic will be rested and could easily take advantage of a tired or relaxed Hawks or Bucks team happy to have won a seven-game series and relieved to see someone else.
It is a double-edged sword for those teams too, they could come out extremely focused and tested or extremely tired. In one situation, the team that is rested could get overwhelmed by a team in rhythm, in the other the rested team could overwhelm its opponents with energy.
It is hard to determine what of these two scenarios will happen for either team or what combination it might come in. Atlanta’s history tells us you can have no idea what to expect. Milwaukee’s history tells us they will play hard to the whistle and cannot be overlooked. It goes without saying, Orlando will need to be ready.
The question Magic fans need to be prepared to answer comes a little further down the road. Orlando went 3-1 against Atlanta and 4-0 against Milwaukee this season. The Magic appear to match up well with both teams — especially for Dwight Howard. They ended six of the eight games in blowout fashion. Experience alone could make you pencil Orlando in to the conference finals.
Many people were probably doing that last year after Philadelphia pushed Orlando to six games and Boston was the defending champions. The Magic certainly took advantage of the Celtics having played a very grueling series with the Bulls in the first round. But down 3-2, Orlando found the will to dig itself out of that hole.
Who knows if that would have happened had the Magic not had to erase a 2-1 deficit in the first round? It is an interesting hypothetical.
But consider this: Cleveland waltzed to the Eastern Conference Finals with two sweeps (including sweeping Atlanta). It appears the Magic might be in this situation this year. The Magic are a tough team. They have shown that throughout the season — and the past couple of seasons.
The Playoffs are different though.
Was Cleveland hurt by not having to fight to get to the Eastern Conference Finals? Were the Magic helped by it? Did it even matter?
This might be the year we find out. The Celtics provide a much stiffer test on paper than either of the teams the Magic might face (no offense Hawks and Bucks fans). The Cavaliers will have the type of test the Magic had last season heading into that potential series.
This is not to hope Orlando goes seven games against Atlanta or Milwaukee. That would not necessarily be a good thing. But it cannot be a good thing to get tested in the Playoffs for the first time in the Eastern Conference Finals. It might be nice to know how this Magic team faces postseason adversity before it is too late.
Just some food for thought.