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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 7, 2010

NBA: Sorry LeBron and Kobe, Magic now the team to beat in playoffs

By Mike Bianchi
The Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — This is probably going to get me kicked out of the National Consortium of LeBron-Worshipping Media Members.

ESPN's Bill Simmons will no doubt tell his army of Twitter followers what a backwoods buffoon I am.

David Stern may even try to fine me $35,000 for "Columnizing unbecoming of the NBA's best interests."

So be it.

It has to be said:

The Orlando Magic, after Thursday night's 112-98 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks, are now the team to beat for the remainder of the NBA playoffs.

You heard me.

Not Kobe and the Lakers.

Not LeBron and the Cavs.

Not the latest flavor du jour out west the Phoenix Suns.

But the Orlando Magic.

I realize there is still six weeks of playoff basketball remaining in NBA's never-ending postseason, but right now at this very moment the Magic should be favored to win the championship.

Why are they the team to beat, you ask? Well, let's start with this: Because nobody's beaten them. Because they are the only unbeaten team left in the playoffs.

The Lakers struggled against Oklahoma City in the first round. The Cavs have already lost homecourt advantage against the Celtics in the second round. Two other flavor du jours out west the Mavs and the Nuggets have already been iced out of the playoffs.

The Magic? All they've done is win ... and win ... and win some more. In fact, they haven't lost a game in more than month. They've won 12 straight dating back to a regular-season loss at San Antonio on April 2.

The Magic have washed over their opponents like a Louisiana oil spill. They've suffocated their opponents like an Icelandic volcano cloud. They've made their opponents look more perplexed than a Greek stockbroker.

They swept the Charlotte Bobcats 4-0 even when their best player Dwight Howard spent more time on the bench than traffic court judge. They followed that up by annihilating the Hawks by 43 points in Game 1 of their second-round series.

Then came Thursday night when the Hawks gave Orlando everything they had, but everything they had wasn't even good enough to keep them within single digits.

Everything they had wasn't enough because Vince Carter scored 20 points in the second half and showed he is still Vince Carter.

It wasn't enough because Dwight Howard was unstoppable, scored 29 points, hit 13-of-18 free throws, yanked 17 boards and once again showed his critics that there is no more tenacious alpha dog in the league.

It wasn't enough because Jameer Nelson (20 points) is playing as good as any point guard in the playoffs..

It wasn't enough because Rashard Lewis, (20 points) continually delivers 3-point daggers that suck the very life out of opponents.

That's right, four Magic players scored in the 20s Thursday night.

The Magic have too many weapons for the Hawks.

The Magic have too many weapons for the league.

"It takes a near-perfect game to beat that team," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said.

As you might expect, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy downplayed his team's dominance when asked about it Thursday.

"We're playing OK," Van Gundy said.

This is the type of no-nonsense, never-satisfied attitude that pervades this entire team. Even Carter—the new kid in town.

"We're a team on a mission," Carter says. "We're trying to accomplish a goal, and every night we step on the floor we're looking to reach that goal."

And with Van Gundy pushing and prodding and preparing, this team never takes its foot off the gas; never takes a night off.

Example: After the 114-71 Game 1 blowout of the Hawks Tuesday, the Magic came to practice Wednesday and found a sheet of paper in their lockers.

The paper contained an in-depth statistical analysis of what happens to playoff teams after they win a game by 20 points more. According to Van Gundy's stats over the last three seasons, 65 percent of the teams that won a playoff game by 20 points or more ended up losing the next game.

"The sheet was filled with percentages and numbers and the year it happened," Matt Barnes said. "I don't think Stan ever sleeps."

Just call it collective insomnia.

It seems like nobody on the Magic is willing to sleep until this team wins a championship.

And right now at this very moment the Magic should be favored to do just that.