Who would have thought that Friday night’s matchup would pit two first place Eastern Conference teams? While some prognosticators grudgingly predicted the Knicks as the default pick in the Atlantic, the trendy picks in the Southeast were Miami and Washington. Right now both teams are behind Orlando in the standings, the surprise team of the early season.
Why would anyone have picked the Orlando Magic to capture their division? Last year the Magic finished dead last, winning only 1 in every 4 games. Their defense was by far the worst in the league. During the offseason, their franchise player McGrady asked to be traded. And when you thought things couldn’t get worse while the Magic were shipping out their franchise player, their Florida rival acquired their first franchise player, Shaquille O’Neal.
It’s said that sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can improve. Grant Hill, who has yet to play even a half a season with Orlando, has played in every Orlando game so far. If Hill plays in Friday’s game, he’ll have played more games this year than in 2003 & 2001 combined. If he doubles the amount of games he’s played in this year, he’ll have his highest amount since 1999. It feels like it was another century when he was healthy and playing for the Pistons.
Their defense which was the laughing stock in the league, is now 4th overall. Helped by a healthy Grant, Cato, and wunderkind Dwight Howard. Howard is also making a difference under the boards, as he is a main reason the Magic are 3th and 4th in offensive and rebounding respectively. Even though their defense is so highly ranked, you may see a high scoring game. Orlando averages 100 possessions into every game (depending on the equation you use), which leads the league (no matter what equation you use).
So far, everything that could have gone right for the Magic has. Their star player is healthy for the first time in 5 years. Their teenage first round pick is paying dividends right off the bat. The trade looks all Orlando, with Cato & Francis playing well while McGrady’s new fans cheer for the removal of their coach. Even if no one sees these two teams as serious contenders in the Eastern Conference, it’s a battle of two first place teams looking for some respect.