The NBA season is upon us… or at least it would be if this lockout were not going on. Nobody is quite certain when the NBA season will start. But if the collective bargaining agreement gets figured out soon, we will see a flurry of moves to make up for our lost offseason. So, with that in mind, it is time to begin opening the book on the 2011-12 season and to take a look at what the season might have in store — especially when it comes to the Magic. Be sure to look out for more of these team capsules and to check out all the blogs taking part in this year’s NBA Blog Preview (don’t worry, I will be linking to all of them in the next few weeks).
Last Year: 40-42
Last Year vs. Magic: Lost 105-89 in Orlando; Lost 111-88 in Phoenix.
This Year vs. Magic: March 21 in Orlando.
Magic Connection: Vince Carter (Player, 2009-10); Marcin Gorat (Player, 2007-10); Grant Hill (Player, 2000-07); Mickael Pietrus (Player, 2008-10)
The Magic and the Suns are tied together pretty closely. Considering they traded each other half of their rosters (OK, not that much) and changed the direction of both their seasons last year, it is no surprise how similar these teams are.
But the similarity does not rest solely on the team’s sharing players last year. The similarity is in the heads of each team.
You see, Phoenix and Orlando are very much in the same boat right now.
They both have solid, possibly very good teams, led by constant MVP candidates whom the entire team is built around. Much like the Magic put together a team to surround Dwight Howard with 3-point shooters, the Suns have worked for a long time to surround Steve Nash with guys who will run the floor, hit the 3-pointer and show the athleticism and court sense to run the pick and roll.
Much like Howard, Nash controls everything on the floor.
And much like Howard, Nash faces an uncertain future.
Phoenix fans don’t have the same sense of panic as Orlando fans do. Steve Nash, a two-time MVP, is on the downside of his career. Many Suns fans want nothing more to see Nash win a championship, any championship, even if it comes outside Phoenix. From what I have read, they want to keep Nash in Phoenix as long as possible, but also understand if he wanted to leave or if the team were forced to trade him.
It is a pickle that just about every team with a superstar has had to think about at one time or another.
Much like Howard, nobody is sure what Nash will do when he becomes a free agent in 2012. Least of all the Suns organization. And, unlike the Magic, the Suns have not been close to a championship in the last few years. The Nash era has been a good one — five of seven years with 50 or more wins, two 60-win seasons and three appearances in the Western Conference Finals.
That is a nice run. But, alas, no championship rings adorn Nash’s delicately precise passing fingers.
Like all superstars, Nash surely yearns to compete for and win a championship. The Knicks have re-entered the free agency fray and are angling for Nash’s services. Whether they will actually get him is a mystery.
And whether Nash will actually leave is another question. Like Howard, he is pulled both by his intense loyalty to Phoenix and his desire to win. One of the two is going to win this tug of war in the summer.
In the meantime, again much like Orlando, Phoenix has few options to make itself better. Grant Hill is the team’s biggest free agent to resign. But outside Nash, there is no longer a solid secondary scorer — Phoenix did not have a player score more than 20 points per game and nobody expects them to bring back Vince Carter, the team’s second-leading scorer. This is a team that is in much disarray as Orlando seems to be, although not in the same salary cap hell we perceive Orlando is in.
But Phoenix still has the same problems as Orlando. The Suns have to figure out what Nash wants and deliver it to him. Just like Orlando.
How the Suns Beat the Magic: So last year was a difficult year for figuring out Phoenix. It was the franchise’s first year with a sub-.500 record since 2004. And, get this, in both matchups with Orlando, Steve Nash sat out with various injuries. Not a good year for the Suns. So, Orlando has never faced Phoenix without Amar’e Stoudemire. If you remember, those Suns teams could give the Magic problems because of Stoudemire’s offensive ability and his ability to keep Dwight Howard honest with his jumper. Channing Frye can do the same thing, but Howard more likely guards Robin Lopez or Marcin Gortat. And those two are not quite Stoudemire when it comes to offensive ability. This game might turn into a 3-point shooting contest. But really the key is (predictably) Steve Nash. Nash can have his way with Jameer Nelson, he has the speed and the craftiness to still pick holes in Orlando’s defense. The task against Phoenix is to make Nash a scorer, he is much less effective that way. For Phoenix to win, Nash has to have some crazy assist numbers and Phoenix has to make its shots.
How the Magic Beat the Suns: A healthy dose of Dwight Howard would do some good. Playing against Marcin Gortat in a game for the first time, Howard recorded 26 points and 15 rebounds in 36 minutes. Gortat had 12 points, but only four rebounds. Call that the Howard effect (Robin Lopez was pretty ineffective). Without Stoudemire to occupy Howard’s mind defensively or physically, Howard should have free reign in the paint like he did in both games last year against the Suns. On top of that, Orlando has to make its shots. As these two rosters are presently constructed, Orlando is a better team. If Howard does his thing and Jameer Nelson or Hedo Turkoglu play solid games, this should be a win. The key is turnovers as that is what Phoenix uses to generate its offense. But a good disciplined game would mean the Magic win.