41 Down, 41 to Go

                                                                                      Source: BostonHerald.com

After last night’s nailbiter loss to the Celtics, the Magic are officially halfway through the regular season march toward the playoffs.  41 games are in the books.  41 games await.

Magic record after the first 41 games this season: 26-15

Magic record after the first 41 games last season: 26-15

As hard as it may be to believe, the Magic have actually managed to exactly duplicate last year’s 41 game win/loss record on the court this year.  With all of the ups and downs we have seen thus far this season, the repeat 26-15 record suggests that this year’s Magic is perfectly on par with the 09-10 squad that finished at 59-23, one win shy of tying the franchise record.

It looks that way on paper.  But, as you know, much has changed in a year.  Today’s Magic is way different from the team that played at Amway Arena last year, and, quite frankly, the jury is still out on whether the new Magic team is improving, declining, or treading water overall.  Last night’s battle against Boston was a good challenge, and I think the team showed a lot of bright spots.  The offense has shown its ability to explode at times, playing scary good with a relentless 3 point attack and consistently good play from Dwight.  Even Dwight’s free throw success is soaring.  But, some troubling spots have appeared, too, especially as the defense appears to have become a bit shaky in recent games.

This team is brand new, and this team is hard to figure out.  It is still too early to tell how the recent trade deals will pan out, even though it looks promising so far.  And, with SVG sticking with an 8-man roster, we can’t really see the true potential and capability of the entire team as a whole.  Q-Rich and Chris Duhon have essentially been downgraded to sideline cheerleaders, and Jason Williams just kind of floats around these days.

I honestly cannot say whether I think the Magic will be able to make a legitimate run to the NBA Finals because, in my opinion, this team is still searching for its true identity.

With so much new personnel change on the floor since one year ago, Orlando has essentially stripped down the flashy Magic sports car down to its sturdy frame and chassis and is in the process of rebuilding the car into an even better (hopefully) souped-up ride.

The dented fender (Vince) and chipped paint (Rashard) have been stripped off. An upgraded engine, new paintjob, and fresh tires are now being put on with the arrival of Turk, J-Rich, and Gilbert, and Magic fans now just have to wait to see all the pieces come together.

This season is very different from last.

After 41 games last year, Magic fans were still heatedly debating the summertime acquisition of Vince Carter, critical of taking on a player in the twilight of his impressive career.

Today, Carter is gone.

After 41 games last year, Magic fans were still bummed from the move to send Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston away, getting an unknown Ryan Anderson in return (with Carter, of course).

Today, CLee has since journeyed over to Houston and who knows where Rafer is these days.  Ryan Anderson, meanwhile, has become a dominant three point shooter and reliable rebound grabber in the paint, working his way into the active 8-man roster and hugely exceeding the Magic’s initial expections of him.

After 41 games last year, Magic fans were wondering if the team’s tandem of Howard and Gortat would be enough size to dominate the paint far into the playoffs.

Today, with Gortat gone, the same fans wonder if Superman’s enormous shoulders are big enough to singlehandedly manage all of Orlando’s ‘big man’ duties.

After 41 games last year, Magic fans were beginning to question what happened to the clutch, reliable shooting shown by Rashard Lewis in the 2009 playoffs, wondering why Lewis was stuck in a funk.  Meanwhile, Gilbert Arenas had recently admitted to keeping firearms in the Wizards locker room and was on the brink of a 50 game suspension from David Stern.

Today, Lewis calls the nation’s capital home and Arenas is embarking on his NBA comeback to be a new man in a Magic uniform, fiercely challenging Jameer Nelson at the point guard spot.

After 41 games last year, Hedo Turkoglu was rapidly fading away into basketball oblivion in Toronto, surely second guessing his decision to become a Raptor rather than head to Portland or accept a less-than-requested salary to stay in Magic pinstripes.

Today, the smiling Turk has (almost magically) managed to venture back to Central Florida to the delight of Magic fans and has not really missed a beat from his explosive play during the 08-09 Magic run to the NBA Finals.  While the Magic has shown its need for the spark of a player like Hedo, Hedo’s greatness is clearly dependent on the Magic style/system of play, too, as seen by his inability to do ANYTHING in Phoenix or Toronto.  Together with Richardson, Hedo brings an extra shooting threat to Orlando.

After 41 games last year, the Phoenix Suns were the Phoenix Suns.

Today, the team might as well be the Orlando Magic – West, sporting four former Magic players in Carter, Pietrus, Gortat, and Hill.

After 41 games last year, Dwight faced very vocal critics claiming the big man had a very limited arsenal of shots in the paint, essentially relying solely on a steady diet of dunks and lay-ups.

Today, Dwight has a jump shot.  Yes.  Dwight Howard has mastered a consistent jumpshot, giving defenders even more trouble since Superman can now slam it in your face, body you up to get an easy lay-up, surprise you with a 14 foot jumper, and nail a hook shot over your head.  Sweet.  Here’s to Superman continuing to drain bank shot after bank shot.

A lot has changed.  Do the changes give Orlando enough firepower to win a championship?

We’ll see.  We just have to let the dust settle and get the sports car revved up again.

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