Friday, May 7, 2010

The Four-Headed Monster

Last season, the Orlando Magic rode the three-headed attack of Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu to the NBA Finals. This year, they're an even more fearsome bunch, this postseason being led by a four-headed monster: Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, a healthy Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter.

That's a foursome that should send shivers down anyone's spine — Lakers, Cavs, Suns, Celtics, everyone. Especially when these four play like they did last night. Each one of them scored at least 20 points, all shooting 50 percent from the field or better. Dwight Howard was a man amongst boys, leading all scorers with 29 points, adding a beastly 17 boards, shooting 8-9 from the field and making 13 of 18 free throws. Rashard Lewis had 20 himself on 7-13 from the field and 3-8 from beyond, adding four boards, six assists, a block and a steal for an all-around excellent floor game.

But it was Jameer Nelson and especially Vince Carter who stole the show late.

Jameer continued his brilliant playoff run, proving that last season's all-star start was no fluke. He scored 20 points on 7-14 from the floor, 2-6 from three and handing out 6 assists. He made a back-breaking three to help the Magic, who trailed at the half, pull away in the final quarter, and rendered Mike Bibby so useless that the Hawks' starting point guard played less than 14 minutes.

But the biggest story of night was Vinsanity reasserting himself. After a passive first half, Vince flat went off in the second, scoring 20 of his 24 points in the second half, 11 in the final quarter to bring the Magic back from an 8-point halftime deficit to a going-away win. It was Half-Man, Half-Amazing stuff, throwing down a monstrous dunk, nailing deep threes, crashing the glass, even going down and making a ridiculous block, then coming right back down on the other end and nailing a deep three that pretty much ended the game.

He scored 24 in all, shooting 9-16 from the field, 2-5 from three, 4-4 from the line. He had 7 boards, a steal and a block. And he completely dominated in the second half, the single biggest factor in the comeback win. Atlanta had no answer for him. None whatsoever. He was putting on such an amazing show, I couldn't help but find my eyes wandering to our top TV to gaze in awe, despite watching a great documentary on the Broad Street Bullies simultaneously. Only an otherworldly performance could pull my eyes away for even a second from something like that, and Carter put on a display worthy of such an honor.

Vince was the man everyone always wanted him to be, leading his team to a big playoff victory. And yet, even when he puts on a performance for the ages, it still pisses people off. Why can't he do this all the time? Where was this all along? Why didn't he become the next Michael Jordan?

To that, I say, enough. Enjoy the man for what he is, not for what he is not. Just because people like Bill Simmons insist he's a cancer (not a totally unfounded claim, to be fair), that doesn't mean he's a guy you can't win with, a player who's not clutch. No, he's never won a championship, but he sure as hell has led his team to many victories, hit a long line of game-winning shots, and put up some ridiculous performances. And he did it again last night. Instead of questioning his motives or wondering what could have been, maybe everyone should be asking themselves if Vinsanity makes the Orlando Magic unbeatable.

If the four-headed monster can play like it did last night, the answer may be yes. Plenty of people questioned the move to let Hedo walk and bring in Vince, especially when Carter struggled early on after Orlando made the finals with Turkoglu. But now it's all coming together. On their best night, the 2009-10 Magic are definitely better than the 2008-09 Magic on their best night. No question about it. Hedo could do a lot of things offensively. Vince can do even more, creating shots for himself and others, driving and finishing, hitting threes, facilitating, making this team completely impossible to guard, especially with Jameer healthy, Rashard doing his thing and Dwight down low. Plus Vince adds the athleticism, even after all these years, that allows him to make more plays on both ends, as his block last night demonstrates, than Hedo could. When he's on and the other three are too, how do you stop these guys? The answer is that you can't, especially when Dwight is hitting free throws.

On their best night, Vince, Jameer, Dwight and Rashard are impossible to guard, damn near unbeatable, especially with a slew of strong role players backing them up — Matt Barnes and Pietrus providing strong defense and scoring threats, J-Will providing a reliable backup at point, Gortat banging down low, Redick and Anderson deep threats, even Brandon Bass available for energy if needed. The question now remains if they can do it for four games out of seven against the elite, the Cavs, Celtics, Lakers, Suns, all teams who have formidable rosters themselves, teeming with talent. This much is certain, if the four-headed monster in Orlando can put up 80-plus points between them a night, they stand as good a chance as anyone to claim the title. And if I had to pick one foursome capable of having all four players put up 20 points on any given night out of the remaining teams, this is the one I'd pick — over Kobe, Lamar, Pau and Artest; over LeBron, Antawn, Mo and Shaq/Delonte; over Pierce, Garnett, Allen and Rondo; Nash, Amare, J-Rich and Barbosa/Dudley/Frye/Hill; over Parker, Ginobili, Duncan and Jefferson; certainly over Deron, Boozer, and whoever else you want to throw in for Utah (Matthews, Korver, Miles, Milsap?); and most definitely over Crawford, Johnson, Smith and Horford.

That doesn't mean I think Orlando is the best team or will even win it all. But if it comes down to which team simply can't be stopped at its highest level, you have to like Orlando's chances. Just take a look at what they did last night.

I'm definitely rooting for Orlando. I'd love to see Jameer get a ring, Vince get a few people off his back (though even a title probably wouldn't even remotely quiet his detractors). I love Jason Williams; Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis are guys I'd love to have on my team. Hell, the only Magic player I hate is J.J. Redick.

They may not be the favorites, and they may not even make it to the Finals, but the Orlando Magic, between Jameer's resurgence, Howard's interior dominance (at least so far this round), Carter's brilliant moments and Rashard's bombs-away style, this squad has been as fun as any to watch this postseason. By the looks of it, we'll get to watch them at least for one more series, already up 2-0 against an Atlanta team that just seems to be lacking something. And if Carter, Lewis, Nelson and Howard can keep this pace up, we just may be treated to even more.

BallHype: hype it up!


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