What If? Series: 2009 Orlando Magic vs. Denver Nuggets

Dwight Howard and Nene would have been an intriguing and testing battle if the Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets met in the 2009 NBA Finals. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Dwight Howard and Nene would have been an intriguing and testing battle if the Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets met in the 2009 NBA Finals. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) /
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What Really Happened

The NBA had a vision for the 2009 NBA Finals. Or at least Nike did.

It was meant to be the ratings bonanza matchup they had dreamed about.

Kobe Bryant, the heir to Michael Jordan, vs. LeBron James, the heir to Magic Johnson, at the very least. Either way, this is the kind of individual battle between two marketing superstars that the league dreamed to showcase on this stage.

Would Kobe Bryant win his first title without Shaquille O’Neal or would the newly minted MVP in LeBron James take the throne and ascend to his first of many championships?

Nike made the infamous puppet commercials and destiny seemed to be on its way.

Quickly, it became clear the Orlando Magic were not going to play their part.

They won Game 1, coming from behind to steal home-court advantage. And they took a 3-1 series lead.

James had one of the best series of his career and in NBA history — 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game in the six-game series. But it was not enough. The Magic had too much offense and did too much to shut everyone else out, winning close games in Game 1 and Game 3.

The marketers’ dream is over.

To be fair, it was not just the Magic who nearly ruined the dream. The Denver Nuggets did their best too.

The Nuggets finished the season 54-28 and No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. Carmelo Anthony returned from the 2008 Olympics inspired and had perhaps his best overall season of his career, averaging 22.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, even though he did not make the All-Star team and saw his scoring drop.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

It was really the only year Anthony was willing to share the spotlight to make his team better in his career.

Anthony was the prototypical scorer. He was not efficient. But still, no one could stop him. In the six-game series against the Lakers, he averaged 27.5 points per game. It was perhaps his inefficiency, shooting 40.7 percent, that ultimately doomed him and the Nuggets.

With Anthony as its scorer and a nice cadre of bigs in Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen to protect the paint, along with a young shooter in J.R. Smith, the Nuggets were a challenging team to face. They were a bruising team to face with a dominant scorer and two low-post options.

The real change for the Nuggets came when they traded Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups in January. Now the Nuggets had put the ball fully in Anthony’s hands as the scorer. And they had a game manager and experienced championship point guard to manage the game and get the team to a higher level.

Denver finished the year seventh in offensive rating (109.0 offensive rating) and eighth in defensive rating (105.6 defensive rating) while also playing at one of the fastest paces in the league.

Anthony could break you down in the half-court or they could go bruise with their big men. Or they could run on you when they got turnovers and stops, especially with the big-man duo who could run the floor in Martin and Andersen.

They had a lot going for them and were a strong team for that late 2000s era when isolation ball and the big men were still kings. With their size, they could match up with the Lakers fairly well and undoubtedly would have given the Magic issues in a seven-game series.

But a sweep is still extremely far-fetched.