It Ain’t Where You Play, It’s Who, You Freakshows

Your Current Eastern Conference Playoff Seedings:
East:

  1. Cleveland
  2. Boston
  3. Orlando
  4. Atlanta
  5. Miami
  6. Philadelphia
  7. Detroit
  8. Chicago

If I’m Orlando, I will do EVERYTHING possible to maintain this order. Now, Dwight thinks that the only way for the Magic to really prove themselves is to go through Detroit. That they have to prove to themsevles and the world that they can beat the Pistons. That you have to overcome your demons.

This is a load of crap.

Look, the Magic are going to end up winning sixty games. The Pistons are not a lock to make the playoffs at this point. The Magic have beaten the Lakers, the Celtics, the Cavs, and just about everybody except the Pistons. So are the Pistons a better team than the Magic? Does anyone think that? Do the Pistons think that? Okay, well, maybe. But then, they’re biased.

The fact is that the Magic have nothing to prove by beating the Pistons. It’s a lose-only scenario. The Pistons have their number, not because they’re a better team, but because of matchups. McDyess, Maxiell, and Amir Johnson are athletic bigs who can neutralize Howard’s vunlerability in his mid-section. Howard’s not built like a tree like Duncan. He’s got powerful legs, but most of his power is in his upper body. Throw in the fact that Sheed is a big man that can shoot from the outside but defend like a tank inside, and their perimeter defense’s ability to shut down the Magic three point artillery, and you’ve got what you need to take this team down again and again and again.

None of this means that the Magic are incapable of winning the NBA title, despite what people will tell you. Is it unlikely? Of course. They’re unproven, they shoot a lot of threes, and um… well, that’s what people tend to point to. They play great defense, they’re deep, they shoot well, they have a big man and good guard play. They have what it takes and they’ve proven it against the best teams in the league. But your shots at the title only come as a result of a perfect combination of hard work, aggressiveness, and a few godo breaks.

Running yourself directly into the one team that has the perfect combination to beat you is not a lucky break. It’s embracing your own mortality, then drowning yourself in it.

The Houston Rockets have somehow managed to do what they did last season. Overcome a significant injury to one of their two biggest stars, gel behind defense and team-centric play. They’re surging. And with the addition of Ron Artest, they have a chance at beating any team in the West. Except Utah.

Utah on the other hand, sucks. I don’t mean they actually suck. They have the sixth best scoring differential in the West (it was third best before the Blazers ran a train on their defense last night). They have the (X) best point guard (where X=a number between 1 and 2). They have a great coach. They have terrific fans. But they couldn’t beat you, me, and Michael Flatley, Lord of the Dance on the road. They’d get trampled underneath his feet, which move independent of his body. Memo is an awesome player, but he’s the kind of guy you want to add to a good frontcourt, not hinge your interior defense on. Boozer is a decepticon. A robot of suck disguised as a good player. This team doesn’t play defense well, has struggles on offense when Williams isn’t doing everything, and oh, yeah, can’t win on the road, ever.

Yet if they get Houston in the first round, they’ll be advancing to a second round beatdown. Yet you know Houston wants to play Utah in the first round. Because they’re masochists.

I understand that these guys have been trained to win their entire careers. They’re built upon a culture of winning and they believe in that. I get that running from an opponent seems less manly, and doesn’t seem right. I get that the personal pride that comes with defeating a longtime opponent is something desirable.

You know what else is desirable?

Yeah, that’s pretty desirable, too. And if you get it? No one cares how you got it. The record books won’t say “2009 NBA Champions: Orlando Magic (Except They Didn’t Beat The Pistons).” The trophy reads the same, kids.  And there are players that will give anything to even get close. They’ll sink to signing Stephon Marbury just to get back there. So why is dodging a matchup that doesn’t fit you any worse than sitting out players to get them healthy, tanking to improve lottery balls, or exaggerating an injury to mess with an opponent? Do what you have to to win. Quit feeling like you need some sort of self-actualization in pursuit of a championship. Beat the teams you know you can beat, and go as far as you can go.

And if you’re having trouble with an incentive? How about this?

MONEY.

There, that should get the point across.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.