Vince Carter and Dwight Howard

As I write this, there are three undefeated teams in the 2010-11 preseason — the Orlando Magic (7-0), the Utah Jazz (7-0) and the Memphis Grizzlies (6-0). Everybody knows that preseason records don’t mean anything, but the way the Magic are winning is probably worth noting. There is only one team outscoring their opponents by an average of more than 10 points per game this preseason, and that is the Magic.

There is also only one team outscoring their opponents by an average of 25 points per game, and that is also the Magic.

Orlando started out slow this preseason with single-digit wins over Houston and Indiana, but then they kicked into high gear with a 54-point win over the Hornets, a 13-point win over the Bobcats, a 38-point win over the Bulls, a 29-point win over the Hawks, and last night’s 25-point win over the Mavericks. Those are monster wins over quality competition. This raises that question: What the hell is going on down in Orlando?

Defense is happening, my friends. The Magic are shooting 49.8 percent from the field after seven preseason games while they’ve held their opponents to 35 percent shooting. Thirty-five percent! That’s like playing against an entire team of Rafer Alstons every game!

It’s common knowledge that two-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard is the backbone of the team that finished third in Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) last season and first in that category the season before. But this season, it looks like the entire team has bought in to the importance of playing hard on D. Yes, even Vince Carter.

“We’re playing tougher than we were a year ago,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy told the Orlando Sentinel after Monday’s blowout win over the Hawks. “Vince steps in and takes another charge tonight. I don’t think sometimes people understand what that does. He doesn’t have to say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to be tougher.’ He’s out there doing it. That’s the currency in this league.”

Scoring is also valuable currency in the NBA, and Vince is also providing that like he’s rediscovered his “Half-Amazing” side. He leads the Magic in scoring this preseason while shooting 60 percent from the field and 59 percent from beyond the arc. If they gave out an award for preseason MVP (which, thankfully, they don’t), Carter would probably win it this year.

Can Vince rediscover his old magic (pun intended) and be Dwight’s All-Star sidekick this season? It seems unlikely, but the man is a physical freak and — perhaps more importantly — he’s in a contract year. Besides that, if you look at the rest of Orlando’s 10-man rotation (Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, J.J. Redick, Quentin Richardson, Brandon Bass, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and Chris Duhon), you could make the case that they’re as deep as any other team in the league.

So with all this in mind, why does it seem like nobody’s taking them seriously as a title contender? Everyone knows they’ll be in the mix, but how many people have you heard proclaim that the Magic should be favored to make it to Eastern Conference Finals? It’s like a Heat vs. Celtics matchup is preordained — to consider another team in that picture would be ridiculous.

I’ll tell you what’s ridiculous: the way the Magic are curbstomping the competition so far. Not only do I think the Magic should be taken seriously as contenders, but I’m picking them to finish with the best regular season record in the East this season. Whatever you think of their chances to beat the Heat or Celtics in a seven-game series, I predict they’ll have homecourt advantage in both of those series.

Of course, playoff basketball is a whole different animal from the regular season (much less preseason) so let’s not start printing up those “STAN VAN GUNDY WILL HAVE HIS REVENGE ON SEATTLE MIAMI” t-shirts just yet. Then again, there’s some saying about the relationship between defense and championships that I can’t quite recall, but seems relevant here.

Comments (14)

  1. Great read. Great In Utero reference.

  2. i thought this title was ironic! i’ve seen at least 5 articles this week on how the magic’s preseason wins are completely different to every other teams and how they’re gonna be big this year.
    its the same thing with them every year, carter was a downgrade of turk, and qrich is a downgrade of barnes (for what he will be used for). the magic are a good team but they never have the grit to win it all, dwight is just too limited and everybody else on the team is either too small time, or a choker ala carter/lewis this year.

  3. Well, you. You’re talking about them.

    Here ends the existentialist portion of the day.

  4. It should be noted that the 13 point Bobcats win was without Howard, Carter, and Lewis.

    They’re definitely stomping on the comp. But they did the same last preseason (undefeated, 17.5 point margin of victory).

  5. the reason i think nobody is taking them seriously is because this is more or less the same team that got totally man handled by the boston celtics last season. so maybe that’s the image that everyone still has in their mind.

  6. Fun fact….Magic have won 21 preseason games in a row. They haven’t lost a preseason game since the opener against the Hawks in 2008.

  7. As a Magic fan I have to say that I’m actually glad that Orlando is flying under the radar. I think the team is playing better when it’s in the underdog role. As for the pre-season: I’m glad the Magic are destroying their opponents but I’m not interpreting anything into it as they did the same against Atlanta in last year’s playoffs before getting bounced by Boston.

    @james: People who (still) claim that Carter is a downgrade from Turk shouldn’t be allowed to ever talk about basketball again. Ever!

  8. @mellowman how has the teams postseason record gone since they traded turk?!
    turk gave the c’s nightmares in ’09, vince choked at the line last year and couldnt defend pierce or allen.

  9. I agree with James. Whatever their regular season stats, VC was a complete no-show in the Boston series. He might be the softest player in the league. That’s what’s wrong with the Magic. Their only reasonably reliable offensive players in the postseason are Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis. That is not a championship-caliber team. I’m not saying they couldn’t win a series against Boston or Miami (not sure how they’ll match up against Miami), but I also don’t really consider them championship contenders.

  10. Because clearly the only thing in the whole of basketball that matters is how you play against Boston.

    Carter was the only Orlando starter apart from Howard to show up in the first two games, and still averaged 13.6 points a game in a low scoring series. Ray Allen, the guy Carter “couldn’t guard”, only scored 2 points a game more.

    Orlando had many problems in that series. Carter was one of them. But he wasn’t the only one, and putting the loss on him is stupid. He certainly played better than Barnes and Lewis.

  11. One more thing to consider… The Magic were 33-8 the second half of the regular season last year. Couple that with their sweeps of Charlotte and Atlanta in the playoffs and their preseason romp this time around, and you are are literally looking at THE best team in the NBA (save the Boston series).

    I fully expect the Magic to go on a crazy run to open the season. Sure, the playoffs will be different…. But the playoffs are a long ways away. In the mean time, it’ll be good to be a Magic fan while all these “Miami v Boston” nay-sayers eat crow during the all-star break.

  12. Its very clear to me that all the magic haters have not been watching them this pre-season. For all those who keep bringing up the Celtics and the Heat as the 2 teams in the ECF I just want to say this ain’t the same team from last year or the year before. This team is MORE focused mentally , physically, and defensively. So we will see come playoff time.

  13. And the Jazz are the 2nd best team nobody is talking aboot.

  14. And the Memphis Grizz’s is one of the three best teams you should’ve said

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