NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Who Can Challenge The Thunder Out West?

The Oklahoma City Thunder currently possess the best record in the Western Conference right now with a record of 42-16. They are picked by many to win the Western Conference this year due to their youth, explosiveness, and their deadly one-two punch of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Thunder are currently second in the NBA in scoring averaging 102.72 points per game, first in field goal percentage shooting 47.4% from the field, first in free throw percentage shooting 80.2% from the charity stripe, and 11th in 3-point percentage shooting 36.0% from beyond the arc. In short, the Thunder are a very good offensive team. They have 2 guys in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook who can go off at any moment and take over a game.
         Having two guys who can do that gives them a huge advantage over most of their opponents. But the Thunder aren't winning 42 games because they have two great scorers. The Golden State Warriors had to part ways with a back-court consisting of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, two players who know how to score the basketball. The Thunder are a more complete team than people realize, and have more going on than just Westbrook and Durant. First off, they have a third guy who can score the rock off the bench, and that would be James Harden. While Kevin Durant averages 27.5 points per game and Russell Westbrook averages 24.2, James Harden averages a solid 16.7 points per game. Harden's scoring off the bench is critical for the Thunder because it helps take pressure off Westbrook and Durant in the scoring department, as well as ensuring that the ball flows better. Harden takes a fair amount of shots himself, and makes it a lot harder for teams to double Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook.
           Averaging 31.7 minutes per game, Harden is third in minutes played behind Westbrook and Durant. He is essentially playing starters minutes, but comes off the bench to help give the team a little bit of a spark mid way through the first quarter. Him coming off the bench is also able to more easily ensure that the Thunder always have a good scorer on the court.I.e. when they want to rest Durant or Westbrook, they can have Harden out there playing, since he will be more refreshed.
           In addition to Harden, Westbrook and Durant also have the luxury of having some guys in the paint who can really plug it up and play good interior defense. If there is any weakness in the Thunder's game, it is defense and their bench. They rank 15th in points allowed, giving up 96.35 points per game, which makes them a mid pack team in scoring defense. But their interior defense is pretty solid with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka in the middle. Ibaka is averaging 3.55 blocks per game, which puts Ibaka up there with the greatest of shot blockers. Mark Eaton who played 11 seasons for the Utah Jazz from 1982-1993 averaged 3.5 blocks per game for his career, which is #1 all time in NBA history. Ibaka is blocking shots at rates that few people have. Perkins is averaging 1.18 blocks per game, nothing near Ibaka's level, but he still helps plug up the middle. As a team in full, the Thunder rank number one in blocks per game, averaging 8.07 blocks per game. That is largely due to Ibaka and Perkins.
         The Thunder are also a solid rebounding team, ranking 8th in rebounds per game (43.19). So rebounding doesn't account for their poor scoring defense. The reason their scoring defense isn't so good is due to their uptempo style of play. They rank 17th in steals per game (7.52) but then they also ranked 3rd in field goal percentage allowed. Their opponents shoot a field goal percentage of 42.6%, which means they defend shots pretty well. Somehow, the Thunder still give up a decent amount of points, but they rebound, shot block, and defend shots well. So it means that they give up more points mainly because of their uptempo style of play. As far as their bench goes, it isn't too impressive once you go beyond Harden. The highest ranked scorer off the bench beyond Harden is Daequan Cook, who is averaging only 5.4 points per game. To be truly honest, outside of Harden, Durant, and Westbrook, nobody on the Thunder really is asked to score. Ibaka averages a shad under 9 points per game, but most of those are off put-backs, dunks, and foul shots.
       The offense is and outside-in offense. Most of their scoring comes on the perimeter. Perimeter jump shooting teams like the Thunder rarely win titles because their shots are lower percentage. But the Thunder are so far defying logic in that department, since they have the best record in the Western Conference, and the second best record in the NBA. But the season is not over yet, and the playoffs are yet to start. The Thunder still have a ways to go before they win the Western Conference. There are a couple teams out there who can beat them in a 7 game series. What I will do in this article is list all possible teams out West who may face the Thunder in the playoffs, and tell you whether or not they have a legitimate shot of dethroning the Thunder come playoff time.
         The first team I'll discuss is the Utah Jazz. The Jazz are currently seeded 9th out West with a record of 31-28. They rank 5th in scoring averaging 99.09 points per game, and 22nd in scoring defense, giving up 98.92 points per game. They also rank 4th in rebounding averaging 43.83 rebounds per game. The Jazz are a team with a lot of youth. That is why there is a lot of hope in Utah. Players like Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, and Gordon Hayward are all in their 1st or 2nd years in the NBA, and all promise to be future stars in the NBA.
            But can the Jazz realistically beat the Thunder in a 7 game series? The answer is probably not, but lets keep something in mind about the Jazz. They are young, athletic, and play in a very tough arena. The Jazz are tough to beat at home. Especially in the playoffs. Plus, unlike the Thunder, the Jazz play that pick 'n roll offense, and are a very inside and out team. Their top two scorers are Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, both who are power forwards. Together, Jefferson and Millsap make for a tough front court. A young athletic team like Utah that plays opposite of OKC could give the Thunder some problems. Plus, the Jazz also have a deeper bench than the Thunder do. With CJ Miles, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Alec Burks coming off the bench. The Jazz youth, interior offense, and rebounding are why the Thunder should be afraid of facing the Jazz. Not only that, but the Jazz score at pace not far off from where the Thunder are at. If they met in a series I think Utah would take them at least 6 games, maybe 7 before losing in game 7 in Oklahoma City. Being a division team helps Utah as well, since they are familiar with the Thunder. As of right now, the Jazz are 1-2 against the Thunder.
             The next team I'll discuss is the 10th seeded Phoenix Suns. The Suns have recently surged into the playoff mix with a 30-28 record, maybe getting the #8 seed out West. They are 11th in scoring at 97.81 points per game, and 20th in scoring defense at 97.66 points given up per game. They also rank 22nd in rebounding at 41.53 rebounds per game. The Suns are honestly lucky as hell to even be in the playoff mix, and they don't have much scoring beyond Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat. Gortat is a nice player and everything, but if he's your leading scorer, you are in trouble. He's averaging 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, which are solid numbers, but as of right now he is the #2 player on this team behind Steve Nash. Once you go beyond Nash and Gortat, you have Jared Dudly and Channing Frye, two guys who can both shoot and stretch the floor. But neither really scores well inside. Grant Hill is also done for the season, so they've lost his double digit scoring as well. They aren't very young either, something that the Thunder are. The truth is, the Thunder would love to face the Suns in the first round because they are an older team, they don't defend or rebound well, and they don't have a great #1 scoring option. They're offensive punch is gone. They also are 0-2 against the Thunder. Expect the Thunder to defeat the Suns in 5 games.
           The next team is the Houston Rockets ranked 8th in the west with a record of 32-26, who rank 16th in rebounding (42.09 rpg), 8th in scoring with 98.29 points per game, and 19th in scoring defense 97.40 points allowed. Here is the problem with Houston, they don't have any elite scoring options. Kevin Martin and Luis Skola and score the ball pretty well, but neither is especially explosive. Kyle Lowry is a good point guard, who would give Westbrook some problems but the truth is, he is no Westbrook. They are 1-2 against the Thunder this season, so they have beaten the Thunder, but they lack the overall explosive power to defeat the Thunder. The only real edge the Rockets have is Kevin McHale. He's a very good coach and has championship experience. That could serve them well in the playoffs, but not well enough to knock out the Thunder.
           The next team is the Denver Nuggets, who rank 7th out west with a record of 32-26. The Nuggets rank #1 in scoring averaging 103.71 points per game, and #29 in scoring defense, giving up 101.78 points per game. As for rebounding, they rank 7th averaging 43.22 rebounds per game. Currently 0-2 against the Thunder, the Nuggets don't pose much of a threat. They play utterly no defense, which means the Thunder would score a bucket of points against them in a 7 game series. While they themeslves do score very well, they don't have the offensive power to compete with OKC over a 7 game series. Their best player is Ty Lawson, who is having a solid season averaging 15.8 points and 6.7 assists per game. But he is nothing compared to what the Thunder have. If Ty Lawson is your best player, you aren't beating the Thunder in a 7 game series. Last season, they lost to the Thunder in 5 games in the first round of the playoffs, and I don't see why the results would be any different. Plus, they are banged up with Danilo Gallinari having injury problems, which makes them even less deep. Wilson Chandler is banged up as well. They are a fairly deep team going 12 guys deep, which would give the Thunder some problems, but the truth is, Denver lacks the fire power to give the Thunder any real problems.
              Ranked 6th is the Dallas Mavericks who are 32-26. They are ranked 20th in scoring at 94.67 points per game, 7th in scoring defense 93.52 points allowed, and 12th in rebounding 42.62 boards per game. The only reason to think the Mavericks can beat the Thunder in a 7 game series is because they did last season. They are a solid defensive team, and if Dirk Nowitzki gets hot, then the Mavs are in trouble. But a lot of the key pieces from last year's team (Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, and DeShawn Stevenson) are gone. Also, Lamar Odom is no longer gonna play for them due to his attitude problems. That really is rough for the Mavs, who thought he could be the missing ingredient in their repeat for a title. With their team having changed so much from last season, along with Odom's fall from grace, I think it's easy to say the Mavs will not knock out the Thunder unless Dirk Nowitzki goes nuts, and other players really step it up. This year, they are 1-3 against the Thunder, which is not at all an encouraging sign.
             Ranked 5th is the 34-23 Memphis Grizzlies who took the Thunder 7 games last season. If there is a team that the Thunder don't wanna face in the playoffs, it's the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies are 19th in offensive scoring 95.18 points per game, but they are 6th in scoring defense 93.37 points allowed per game. Rebounding is also a strength of the Grizzlies, who average 42.22 per game ranked 15th in the NBA. The Grizzlies are a threat because they have an inside out style of game with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the paint. Also they have Rudy Gay, who is an all-star caliber small forward. They took the Thunder 7 games with Gay hurt. If he's healthy come post season, look out for the Grizzlies with Conley, Mayo, Randolph, and Gasol to make a run. The big reason why I think the Grizzlies will oust the Thunder if they get the chance is due to their depth. They have 6 guys who score in double figures to the Thunder's 3. They have a much more balanced scoring attack, a deeper bench, and they play better defense. Not to mention they are just about as young as the Thunder are. If they meet the Thunder in a 7 game series, I personally see Memphis upsetting OKC. They are 1-2 against the Thunder this season, but they weren't at full strength in any of those games, and in their most recent game against the Thunder, they won @ OKC without Mike Conley.
        Ranked 4th in the Western Conference are the 35-23 Los Angeles Clippers. They rank 13th in points scored (97.29 points per game), 14th in points allowed (94.98 points allowed per game), and 18th in rebounding (41.72 rebounds per game). They have a 2-1 record against the Thunder, which does lead me to believe the Clippers may have a shot at knocking out the Thunder. The reason why the Thunder should fear them is pretty obvious. Chris Paul is better than Russell Westbrook, and Blake Griffin is a force in the paint. Blake Griffin has scored 22, 7, and 16 points in those three games against Thunder, which means that Serge Ibaka is doing his job against B-Griff. In order to really have a good game in the paint against the Thunder you need to have another teammate who also scores well in the paint. The Clippers only have Griffin which allows him to get doubled and roughed up by Perkins and Ibaka. They need another good force in the paint, and their best option DeAndre Jordan hasn't yet arrived. He still needs a lot of growing to do. Teams like Utah and Memphis have two really good inside paint options that can wear down the Thunder's interior defense. Having just one paint player won't get it done.
           But if there is a reason to believe in the Clippers, here is why: Chris Paul will outplay Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin won't be contained, Nick Young will replace the production of Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams will get hot, and they overall will win because they have a slightly better bench. Like Memphis, they have 6 guys who score in double figures while the Thunder have 3. Teams that have more offensive weapons in totality like the Clippers give the Thunder problems. Plus, Chris Paul knows how to close ball games. Do they knock out the Thunder? I don't see why not. I like their chances for the same reason I like the Grizz. More balanced scoring. However, we haven't seen them take the Thunder to a game 7 like the Grizzlies have, which makes me a little less confident in the Clippers. But I give them good odds at doing it.
             Ranked 3rd in the Western Conference are the 37-22 Los Angeles Lakers. They are 17th in Scoring averaging 96.78 points per game and 11th in points allowed at 94.64 points allowed per game. They are also # 2 in rebounding averaging 46.17 rebounds per game. The Lakers are also 0-2 against the Thunder this season. The Lakers on paper give the Thunder problems because they have Kobe Bryant who averages 28.1 points per game, and two great big guys in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. They rebound very well and can out muscle the Thunder's post defense. They have been lacking a good point guard, but now they have Ramon Sessions, who is a legit point guard. He is averaging 13.5 points and 7.1 assists per game as a Laker. He seems to have given this team a real boost by helping them address an obvious weakness they had at the beginning of the Season. The Lakers haven't played the Thunder with Sessions at point, so until then, we can't make a fair prediction of how things will go. Will they beat the Thunder in a series? Probably not, but they got the size to do it, the closer to do it in Kobe, and a better point guard now. So, don't count the Lakers out, even though I think the Thunder probably knock them out in 6 games.
           Ranked 2nd in the Western Conference is the 40-16 San Antonio Spurs. They are 3rd in scoring, averaging 101.68 points per game and 17th in points allowed, giving up 96.38 points per game. They also average 42.52 rebounds per game which is 13th in the NBA. They are also 2-1 against the Thunder. The Spurs are a team that the Thunder should be worried about for a few reasons. (A) They have more experience than the Thunder. (B) They are 2-1 against them and Manu Ginobili hasn't played in any of those games. (C) They have a very deep bench and a lot of it is youth. (D) Tony Parker is a great point guard who can match up with Westbrook. (E) They score the ball well. Also, if the Spurs get the #1 seed, then the Thunder could have to go on the road in a game 7. The reason why the Thunder probably beat the Spurs should they meet is they are younger and have the best player on the court. Kevin Durant is better than anybody on the Spurs. Is Russell Westbrook the #2 best player on the court? Probably, but I'm willing to call him and Tony Parker even. So in short, I think the Thunder win that series because they have the best player on the floor. But if this doesn't mean it wouldn't be close. The Spurs have more youth this year and are deeper than last season. Plus, they play very good team basketball. They play as a unit and are very disciplined. If the Thunder trip up at all, the Spurs would be right there to pick them apart. I expect the Thunder to win in 7 games.
                My honest pick to win the West is the Memphis Grizzlies as of right now. I like their depth, size, versatility, and defensive abilities. But the Thunder should still be the favorites. They've been the best team all year out West and they deserve to be the team being chased. While they are really good for all the reasons I mentioned earlier, they are still young, and I'm not sure they are quite ready to take that leap to the NBA Finals. Remember that they nearly lost in 7 games to Memphis last season, and lost in 5 games to Dallas in the next round (conference finals). It's no "slam dunk" they win the west. There are a lot of teams that can knock them out and a lot of teams that very well may represent the West in the NBA Finals. It'll be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fresh Power Rankings!!!

Here are my power rankings as of today April 10. Enjoy!
1. San Antonio Spurs (40-15) The Spurs just had their 11 game win streak snapped in Salt Lake City, but that was because Gregg Popovich rested Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan. The Spurs are white hot right now, and with the way they are playing, there is no reason to not think they can't win it all this year. 2.Oklahoma City Thunder (42-15) They currently have the best record out west, and they've won 2 straight after dropping 3 in a row. The Thunder should be the favorites to come out of the west, but if they want to make that happen they need better bench production. They're getting 2/3rds of their scoring from 3 guys. That should worry them with teams like Memphis and San Antonio lurking, who have much deeper benches and more balanced scoring attacks. 3. Miami Heat:40-15 No matter how much of a funk that they've been in, I can't pick the Bulls to over-take them in the East. I just can't do it. The Bulls don't seem to have made enough improvements for me to think things will be different this year, but they still gotta be worried that the Celtics are getting hot. 4. Chicago Bulls: 43-14 If they want any shot of winning the East, they have to get the #1 seed in the East. With only about 9 games left, they're gonna have to pedal to the metal to get that accomplished. Miami wants the top spot, too. 5. Boston Celtics:32-24 They've won 7 of their last 10 games, with impressive wins over the Heat, Sixers, and Pacers. Greg Steimsma has also come out of nowhere off the bench to energize this team. The Celtics are hitting their stride at just the right time. 6. Memphis Grizzlies: 33-23 With solid wins over the Heat, Mavericks, and Clippers the Grizzlies are on a roll, including winning 8 of their last 10. This is with Zach Randolph being eased back into the rotation! The Grizzlies are the sleeper team out west, and everybody needs to be more afraid of these guys. They got the depth, youth, and defensive abilities to win the western conference. 7. Los Angeles Lakers: 36-22 They barely beat the Nets, Warriors, and Hornets. They lost badly to the Suns in Phoenix, and lost at home to the Rockets. The Lakers are sleep walking right now, and Andrew Bynum is acting like a little kid. They better wake up soon, because they are not winning the west if they continue playing like this. 8. Los Angeles Clippers: 34-23 The Clippers have taken a huge step forward as a franchise this season, but they still are a couple of pieces away from contending. Still, if Nick Young gets more comfortable in their system, they could make a deep playoff run. But it would really surprise me if they did. 9.Indiana Pacers: 35-22 They're still a young team with lot of growing ahead of them, but when they play at their best, the can hang with anybody in the NBA. Roy Hibbert is a top flight big man, and he's still extremely young. Look for the Pacers to wreak havoc in the playoffs, but not win the conference. 10. Atlanta Hawks: 34-23 They are 1-5 against the Bulls and Heat this season. Granted, a couple of those losses have been pretty close, but I doubt the Hawks will pose much of a threat in the 2nd round. They have a realistic shot of advancing in the playoffs provided they aren't playing the Heat or Bulls. 11. Houston Rockets: 32-25 The Rockets are playing fantastic basketball right now winning 4 straight games all on the road. @ Chicago, @ L.A. Lakers, @ Sacramento, and @ Portland. The Rockets play like a team with urgency, and they deserve to be in the playoffs. Kevin McHale has his team playing the right way. 12. Orlando Magic: 34-23 They're lucky they play in the East, because if they were out west, they'd be missing the playoffs for sure. With all this Dwight Howard wanting to fire Stan Van Gundy drama, they will be lucky to win a series. 13. Denver Nuggets: 31-26 The Nuggets are a tough team to face because they don't have one clear go to guy or an all-star. But they are a well assembled team of many talented players. Kenneth Faried just had 27 points and 17 rebounds against the Warriors last night. I know it was against the Warriors, but the "Manimal" as he is called is living up to his nickname. If Faried can keep this up, the Nuggets will be a lot better. Faried is such a large young man that he's gonna give a lot of teams trouble. 14. Dallas Mavericks: 31-26 Having to part ways with Lamar Odom is likely the best thing for this team, but it is still a real bummer for the Mavs that they couldn't get Odom to play well for them. Now they have to press on and hope they don't miss the playoffs, which is a real possible. 15. New York Knicks: 29-27 The Knicks roller coaster is on another upswing as they've won 2 games in a row and 7 of their last 10 games. They've beaten Indy twice, they've beaten the Sixer, the Magic, and now the Bulls. They show flashes of brilliance, but the consistency just isn't there. They're 19-10 at home, but 10-17 on the road. That's not gonna cut it in the playoffs. They gotta step it up on the road. 16. Milwaukee Bucks: 28-29 Thanks to the Sixers sliding, they still got a pulse. They are 19-4 against below .500 teams, but they are 9-25 against above .500 teams. They've been beating the teams they're supposed to beat, but they gotta do better against playoff bound teams. 17. Phoenix Suns: 30-27 It's amazing that the Suns are still in the playoff mix with the loss of Grant Hill, as well as the departure of Amare Stoudemire. It really is a testament to how good Steve Nash really is. Marcin Gortat is also having a very underrated season, and has been holding down the fort pretty well in the paint. 18. Philadelphia 76ers: 29-27 They have really gone downhill, dropping 4 games in row to the Heat, Raptors, Magic, and Celtics. The loss to the Celtics was embarrassing, and a clear sign that they are on their way out. They got a young team that still needs to grow. Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand have to step up and pull this young team out of this mess before they miss the playoffs all together. 19. Utah Jazz: 30-28 Paul Millsap said the Spurs resting their starters against them lest night was a "slap in the face" to the Utah Jazz. He said it motivated them to win. But it wasn't as if the Jazz really stomped them. With 2 minutes left, the game was tied. The Jazz should be glad Pop rested Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan. Because if he didn't, the Jazz would have gotten stomped for sure. Thanks to Pop, the Jazz still are alive in the playoff race. 20. Portland Trailblazers: 27-31 The Blazers are clearly "walking dead" at this point. They know they got no shot at the playoffs, and they are really just looking towards the Draft. They have the Nets first round pick (top 3 protected) as well as their own lottery pick which they'll get for missing the playoffs. They're already looking towards next season with an improved roster thanks to this deep draft. 21. Minnesota Timberwolves: 25-33 They've gone 4-14 since Ricky Rubio got hurt, so it's tough to really blame them for their struggles. They got a bright future in the Twin Cities with Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and co. But for right now, they're just gonna have to hit the reset button for next season. However, this could be good as they'll get a better draft pick. 22. Detroit Pistons: 21-36 They're 15-12 at home, but 6-24 on the road. Pretty much a telltale sign of a young team. They gotta get better on the road, but as a young inexperienced team aside from Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace, struggling on the road is no surprise. As far as I'm concerned, they've had a very encouraging season. Brandon Knight is the real deal. 23. Golden State Warriors: 22-34 They got absolutely mauled by the Nuggets last night. But overall, they've been playing really hard and aggressively. Expect them to play the Mavericks down to the wire on Thursday night, and perhaps even win. The game will be in Oakland. 24. New Jersey Nets: 21-37 Brook Lopez has been shut down for the rest of the season, and they clearly are all eyeballing the summer. Whether or not Deron Williams stays with the team basically determines whether or not they start from the ground up again or not. They just gotta hope he stays. Otherwise that trade with Utah will officially have been a HUGE mistake. 25. Toronto Raptors: 20-38 The loss of Andrea Bargnani has really hurt this team. Especially since they struggle when he's healthy. They got some pieces,but still they are aways away from being a serious contender. 26. Sacramento Kings: 19-38 They should be excited with the way DeMarcus Cousins is developing, as well as the rest of their roster. They're just young and inexperienced. 27.Cleveland Cavaliers: 18-36 Kyrie Irving is still out, and I wouldn't be surprised if they shut him down for the rest of the season. No need to risk further injury to their top pick. Irving already hast the rookie of the year award locked up. 28.New Orleans Hornets: 15-32 Eric Gordon hasn't been healthy all season and Jarret Jack is out for the year. It's been a rough year for the Hornets in the Big Easy. David Stern is meeting with a potential ownership group this week. Getting new ownership that is committed to this franchise long-term would really give this dire franchise a boost. 29. Washington Wizards: 13-44 They've been beating up on the Bobcats all season. Too bad they don't play them anymore! 30. Charlotte Bobcats: 7-48 They've had a rough rough season, including hearing that a college team would beat them. I just hope they get a good draft pick, and pick themselves up. I also hope Michael Jordan stops running them into the ground.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Are The Orlando Magic Done?

The Orlando Magic just had one of the most dramatic weeks in recent NBA history. Stan Van Gundy opened a can of worms by saying that Dwight Howard had asked for him to be fired. He said management had told him this, but that he wasn't at all worried and only cared about winning basketball games. But this didn't stop the media from going into a frenzy. Kendall Gill had some interesting things to say Friday Night on NBA Game Time regarding the drama in Orlando. He compared Dwight Howard asking for Stan Van Gundy to be fired to a situation that happened to the 1994 Seattle Supersonic team that he played on. If you guys know your NBA History, you know that in 1994, the 8 seeded Denver Nuggets upset the 1 seeded Seattle Supersonics in the first round of playoffs, the first time an 8 seed ever beat a 1 seed in NBA history. The Sonics were expected to win the west as well as the championship, but they fell way short after losing in the first round of the playoffs. Kendall Gill says the reason they lost that series was due to an argument that Ricky Pierce and Gary Payton in game 1 of that series. Gill said that the argument divided the team, and was a big reason they lost that series. He feels that this Dwight Howard/Stan Van Gundy drama will have the same affect on the Magic, and he went so far as to say the Magic are "Done", and will not be a factor come playoffs. Gill's words are strong, and come with a lot of weight behind them. But are the Magic really done? Well, it appears as though Gill may be right. The Magic are currently 6th in the East and 10 games out of first place. They just got thumped by the Knicks who are also full of problems, and have had recent losses against the Pistons and Nuggets. Two teams who aren't going anywhere. But I guess to more definitively answer the question about whether or not the Magic are done I'll define what "done" means. If "done" means out of the playoff mix, then the answer is obviously no. They will still make the playoffs, and likely avoid the Bulls and Heat in the first round, which means they can still maybe win a first round series. If by "done" you mean they aren't winning the championship this season, then by all means, yes they are done. The Magic will not come close to winning a championship this season. They may win a series, they may have a close series in the 2nd round, but they won't advance to conference finals and certainly not the NBA finals. Even if you take all this drama out of the equation and just look at them from a pure basketball sense, it is clear that they aren't going to win the title. Dwight Howard is not the same force that Shaquille O'Neal was in his prime. Shaq averaged 29.3 points per game twice in his early days in Orlando, and 29.7 points per game later on with the Lakers. Dwight Howard averages 20. That's a solid scoring average,but he is nowhere near the same level of scoring production that Shaq was, and he is nowhere near the player that Shaquille O'Neal was as a whole. So the whole Shaq/Dwight Howard comparisons just need to stop. Secondly, Dwight Howard doesn't have anybody else really really good around him. Ryan Anderson is having a breakout season, but he's not good enough to propel them to a title. Jason Richardson is on the back end of his career, and Jameer Nelson just isn't all that good. So in short, if you look at the Magic from just a pure basketball perspective, it's clear they aren't cut to win a title. But then when you throw all this drama into the mix, then it makes things even worse, and really sinks the team. Sorry to break it to you Orlando Fans, but your team is "DONE". Better luck next season, and hope your team makes a big signing over the summer. Maybe you nab Steve Nash? Who knows, but for the time being just hope your team can win a series, and not totally explode at the end of the season. At this point, all that Orlando fans can really hope for is that their team doesn't totally detonate and explode making things even worse at the start of next season.