Friday, April 17, 2009

Sixers face a tough task in bringing down beat-up Magic

The Magic and Sixers are two teams that suffered some untimely injuries down the stretch and didn't finish the season as strong as they would have liked.

Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Orlando was without Rashard Lewis (right knee tendinitis) for the last three games of the season, and without Hedo Turkoglu (sprained left ankle) for the last two. The Magic weren't at their best to close the season, losing five of their last nine games.

The Sixers lost Thaddeus Young to a sprained right ankle on March 31 and lost six straight games before edging out the Cavs on the final night of the season. At one point late in the season, they had a shot at the fourth seed, but they needed that win in Cleveland just to finish sixth.


The Magic vs. the trainer's table: If the Magic are healthy and at their best, they should be making their second straight trip to the conference semifinals and would even have a shot to knock off the Celtics. But their late-season injuries are concerning.

Leg injuries can affect shooters, and no team shoots more threes (on a per-possession basis) than the Magic. So if Lewis and Turkoglu aren't 100 percent and aren't shooting well, they could be in trouble.

Even if they're close to full strength, it will take some time for the Magic starters to get back into a rhythm together.

This team had its best season since 1995-96, but it lost Jameer Nelson in early February. And now the Magic have Turkoglu and Lewis going into the postseason banged up. If they manage to crash the conference finals, it will be quite an accomplishment.

Behind the numbers

31.8 -- The percentage of 3-pointers made by the Sixers this season. They are the worst 3-point shooting team in the league.

Five big questions

1. What exactly is the status of Turkoglu and Lewis?

It's unlikely that either will be at 100 percent to start the series. But it's also unlikely that either will miss a game.

Turkoglu said on Wednesday that his ankle was "getting stronger" after doing some shooting. Lewis was unable to finish shootaround Wednesday morning. But by the time Sunday's Game 1 arrives, they'll each have had more than a week off.

2. So if the Magic don't shoot well, the Sixers will win?

No. The Magic are a lot more than just a 3-point shooting team. Along with the Celtics and Cavs, they're one of the three best defensive teams in the league. When the shots aren't falling, Orlando can rely on its defense much more than in previous years.

The Magic also rank third in the NBA in free-throw attempts per possession. The ability to get to the line is important in the Playoffs.

3. So how can the Sixers pull off an upset?

They need to get running, but that starts with their defense. Philly uses its length to force turnovers and its speed to convert on the other end. With Young healthy again, the Sixers' running game is back at full strength.

The Magic are at the league average when it comes to turning the ball over, but they do a good job of getting back and preventing transition buckets. And that will be priority No. 1 for Stan Van Gundy's team.

4. Can Samuel Dalembert keep Dwight Howard contained?

As long as his head is in the game, Dalembert has the length and the ability to defend Howard pretty well. Superman looked relatively mortal against the Sixers this season, averaging just 15.7 points and 10 boards.

In the third meeting, Dalembert was in foul trouble, but the Sixers also have Marreese Speights and Theo Ratliff to come in and provide 12 more fouls on Howard.

5. Who could be an X-factor?

Louis Williams is the Sixer with the best ability to create his own shot in a half-court setting. He can heat up and carry the offense if Philly can't get running. Williams shot just 7-for-24 (29 percent) against the Magic this season and two of the three games were close. If he had it going in one or both of those games, it may have made a difference in the result.


Magic in 5. With Lewis and Turkoglu banged up, the scores may be lower than they would otherwise, but the Magic have proven over the course of 82 games that they're a great defensive team. And if the Sixers can't run as much as they would like, they'll have trouble putting points on the board.

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