By Matt Caputo
Both Orlando and Toronto are ripe to make an impact in the playoffs. For the Magic, it’s the first time since the era of Shaq, Penny and Nick Anderson that they’ve had a really lethal squad going into the playoffs. For the Raptors, who made their first playoff appearance in five seasons last year, it’s a chance to prove they can be an elite team in the eastern conference.
The Raptors come in at 41-41, six less wins than last season. However, players like Chris Bosh and Jose Calderon improved tremendously and Jamario Moom coming out of nowhere gave the Raptor an extra ounce of intensity all season. Toronto’s deep roster has been their most valuable weapon all season. The improved play of T.J. Ford and Andrea Bargani has kept the Raptors dangerous and a franchise on the rise.
The Magic on the other hand, obviously had a tremendous year out of Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis emerged as a perfect second option that allowed Jameer Nelson to distribute more. Hedo Turkoglu continued his reign as one of the most overlooked players in the NBA.
FRONT COURT: The frontcourt advantage goes easily to the Orlando Magic. Howard has been the East’s most dominant big man for at least two seasons, Lewis compliments him very well, and their deep bench includes veteran bigs like Adonal Foyle, Pat Garrity and Tony Battie. In the frontcourt, Bosh will have to do a lot of the work himself as Moon is inexperienced in the playoffs and Rasho Nesterovic is only beginning to play to his potential.
BACK COURT: Some might see Jameer Nelson and the Magic as being stronger in the back court than Toronto, but the edge should go to the Raptors who usually have a number of guards involved. Besides Ford and Calderon, Anthony Parker is a straight-up competitor and should help compliment the two lead guards. While the Magic have a nice stash of guards on paper, J.J. Reddick, Maurice Evans and Carlos Arroyo aren’t nearly as utilized as Calderon and Carlos Delfino are off the bench.
BENCH: Once again, the Raptors should have the advantage off the bench. They have a number of guys who don’t mind coming off the bench and that mentality will take you far in the playoffs if there is a formula behind it. The weakest part of the Magic team is their bench and it’s hard to win playoff games with limited options. Calderon and Bargnani both put up good numbers and Primoz Brezec will hopefully put his body to good use. Don’t look for Foyle, Bogans or Garrity to produce much more than some hard clapping.
FINAL THOUGHT: While the Raptors will threaten, as long as Orlando’s starters can play a lot of minutes the Magic should win the series in about six games. While both of these teams have become increasingly more exciting in the last few years and should continue to. The Raptors are deep, but only kryptonite can stop Superman.
MAGIC IN SIX