19 April 2007

Brave New World

Don't look now, but the Magic closed out their season on a four-game winning streak to finish at 40-42 (.488). We played well down the stretch, which is encouraging, but this streak leaves me feeling like there's a cloud above our heads.

Why the feeling of impending doom?

The last time the Magic won five straight was from December 30th to January 12th. Not bad, right? Well, no, but what happened next was: they dropped their next six games and never really recovered. To be fair, that downward spiral began when Trevor Ariza injured his knee against Golden State, which was the last game in that winning streak. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but Darko Milicic went down with a sprained foot against Washington two nights ago. Luckily, we managed to win both that game and last night's contest against Miami, which didn't play its stars at all. What I'm getting at is as follows: We've gone on streaks like this before, then lost a player due to injury, then spiraled out of control.

We really need Darko against Detroit. I don't know how else to say it. Power forward is a really weak spot on our team. As much as I bust on Jameer for being mediocre, at least he's young and has a capable veteran, Carlos Arroyo, backing him up. Milicic is our only true talent at power forward. Consider our other options:

  • Tony Battie may start games, but he rarely finishes them. He has no offensive game and provides only marginal help on the glass.
  • Bo Outlaw can't do anything like he used to because he's aged.
  • Pat Garrity has lost his shooting touch and couldn't guard a chair if he had to. He also can't rebound.
  • James Augustine is a rookie who has played in 7 minutes this entire season.

Darko's absence -- he won't be available until next week at the earliest -- is going to force Brian Hill to get creative in his rotation. He might have to play "small ball" and we saw some of it last night against Miami. At one point, Hill had both Battie and Hedo Turkoglu out of position, with Battie at center and Turkoglu at power forward. I'm all in favor of limiting Pat Garrity's minutes as much as possible. I love Pat, he's great for the community and everything, but he can't be expected to guard Rasheed Wallace or Chris Webber for any length of time. He's just too slow.

This series is really going to be a litmus test for our youngsters. Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, and Trevor Ariza are all getting their first tastes of playoff action and it will be interesting to see how they react to the pressure. The core of this Detroit team has won two titles in the past five years, so they know exactly what to do. At this point, all I can ask for is that everyone plays hard and doesn't make any mistakes. If we get outplayed, fine; Detroit is a more talented team anyway. I just don't want to go down without a fight, and that means that everyone plays as hard as he can and as intelligently as he can for as long as he's in the game.

Come out swinging.

Postscript: Over/under on big shots in the series from J.J. Redick: three. Take the over. He looked very confident last night against Miami. He also knows all about playing under pressure; going to college at Duke will do that to you.

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