What if? Series: 1996 Orlando Magic vs. Seattle Supersonics

The Orlando Magic and Seattle SuperSonics were set to clash throughout the late 1990s as the two best young teams in the league. (Photo credit should read TONY RANZE/AFP via Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic and Seattle SuperSonics were set to clash throughout the late 1990s as the two best young teams in the league. (Photo credit should read TONY RANZE/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Seattle SuperSonics
The Seattle SuperSonics had their breakthrough moment in reaching the NBA Finals in 1996. (Photo credit should read DAN LEVINE/AFP via Getty Images) /

Simulated Series

Why project what these matchups might look like when we can actually simulate it using WhatIfSports.com’s simulation engine.

Using the minute distribution from the conference finals series for the Orlando Magic and the Finals minutes distribution for the Seattle SuperSonics, I have constructed realistic-looking rotations to use in the simulation. And we can at least get a picture of how the series might have gone.

Game 1 — Magic 106, Sonics 102 (ORL leads 1-0)

Anfernee Hardaway wins round one of his matchup with Gary Payton, scoring 30 points to go with seven steals as the Magic hold off a late rally from the Sonics to steal Game 1. Gary Payton finishes with 27 points and seven assists. Detlef Schrempf uses his size to feast on Dennis Scott too with 31 points.

But the Magic have simply too much offense and are able to force 22 turnovers. Shaquille O’Neal scores 21 points and Nick Anderson scores 18 points. Brian Shaw adds 16 points off the bench.

The Magic just had too much offense and even left points on the board with poor free-throw shooting. The Hardaway/Payton battle is going to be the one to watch the rest of this series.

Game 2 — Sonics 106, Magic 105 (Series Tied 1-1)

Seattle opened up an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter with a 15-4 run to start the fourth. It was their turn to hold on, sinking key free throws down the stretch. Nick Anderson’s three at the end of the game only added cosmetic appearance.

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  • Shawn Kemp scored 20 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. Gary Payton scored 25 points to go with seven assists.

    Shaquille O’Neal asserted himself with 37 points and 20 rebounds to go with five blocks. Everything orbited around him. But he made only three of nine free throws. The balance from Game 1 was not there with Anfernee Hardaway 24 points to go with nine assists and seven rebounds.

    Free-throw shooting is everything. Seattle made 26 of 35 free throws.

    But Detlef Schrempf should get his due. the Magic do not have anyone really capable of matching up with him especially when Shawn Kemp is on the floor with another big. Schrempf scored 23 points and 12 rebounds.

    Game 3 — Sonics 104, Magic 82 (SEA leads 2-1)

    Seattle gets homecourt advantage back with a blowout win that was over from the start. The Sonics won the first quarter 30-18 and never ceded control. And what was worse is that the stars did not beat the Magic in this game.

    Hersey Hawkins scored 25 points to lead the Sonics. The Magic only got 15 points from O’Neal as the Magic shot 36 percent from the floor and 5 for 24 from beyond the arc. Hardaway had 14 points but six turnovers. The Magic’s star players just were not able to carry the team.

    Seattle’s defense can definitely get under their skin. And O’Neal’s 3-for-10 shooting at the foul line hurts a lot.

    Game 4 — Sonics 105, Magic 99 (SEA leads 3-1)

    The Sonics move one game away from winning the title with another come-from-behind effort in the fourth quarter. Shawn Kemp scored 31 points to go with 19 rebounds and four blocks. He scored nine points in the final two minutes to break a 97-all tie and lead Seattle to the win. Detlef Schrempf added 17 points and seven rebounds.

    The Magic got their offense going again with 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists from Anfernee Hardaway and 23 points and 13 rebounds from Shaquille O’Neal.

    Orlando just struggles to hit shots consistently, making only 40.7 percent of their shots for the game. At least the way I have set up the rotation, the bench is giving them virtually nothing — Brian Shaw was key to the Game 1 win. Orlando simply relies too heavily on its star players to take them home.

    And the Sonics have just a ton more weapons they can rely on offensively and defensively.

    Game 5 — Sonics 112, Magic 92 (SEA wins 4-1)

    The Magic’s second straight trip to the Finals again ends in disappointment as the Sonics pull off the gentlemen’s sweep and celebrate the franchise’s second title on the Orlando Arena floor. Gary Payton scores 30 points and Shawn Kemp adds 24 points and 19 rebounds. Kemp is named the Finals MVP.

    Seattle blew the game open early in the fourth quarter as Orlando ran out of gas to keep up with the hard-charging Seattle team. The Sonics shoot 56.2-percent from the field and 10 for 15 from deep the clinch the series.

    Shaquille O’Neal scores 17 points to go with 10 rebounds before fouling out. Anfernee Hardaway has 13 points with eight rebounds and seven assists, but six turnovers as the Magic cannot get the stops to say in the series.

    Who knows now what happens with O’Neal preparing to enter free agency and the Magic still unable to climb over the top and win the title.