59-23. That's an impressive record. Daunting, even. I mean, 60 win seasons don't come along very often and the Magic were oh so close. Just imagine if they hadn't lost to the Knicks at home last Friday. That number, 59, along with several others is what so many people are hanging their hats on as we head into game one. The only problem is, the more relevant win total for Orlando is 23.
You see, the Sixers won't be playing the Orlando team that opened the season 36-10 with Jameer Nelson playing out of his mind. They're facing the team that finished the year 23-13 under Rafer Alston. 23-13 is nothing to sneeze at, but if you look a little closer, you'll see that this Orlando Magic is hardly a powerhouse.
First of all, let's get rid of the detritus. How well you played against the Wizards and the Knicks doesn't really matter now that we've reached the second season. What matters is how well you played against the good teams. The playoff teams. Here are the splits:
- With Nelson vs. Playoff Teams: 17-7
- Without Nelson vs. Playoff Teams: 9-8
- The Sixers last 17 games vs. Playoff Teams: 8-9
Since we're talking about who teams are right now, vs. who they were earlier in the season, take note of the Sixers' record vs. playoff teams since January 3rd (the Tony Parker buzzer-beater game), 13-11.
About three weeks ago, when the Sixers were firing on all cylinders, guys like John Hollinger were calling Philly the team no one wanted to play. Thad Young goes down, the schedule becomes merciless, the Sixers go on a terrible run and suddenly they don't have any shot at all. Yet when Orlando limps into the playoffs it's assumed that they will simply be able to flip the switch and return to a level they haven't played at since Nelson went down.
Orlando is a good team, don't get me wrong, but honestly, the Sixers have played better basketball against the best teams in the league than this Orlando team has. All the pundits seem to think it's perfectly acceptable to have amnesia when it comes to how Orlando finished the season, but they're putting an unbelievable amount of weight on the Sixers' final 7 games. I think everyone is expecting an Orlando team which does not exist anymore to show up for this series, while they're ignoring the fact that the Sixers are much, much better than they've played recently, and there are some very tangible reasons for their poor play. They also choose to ignore the fact that those issues, Thad's health and the team's merciless schedule, have been resolved.