The Orlando Magic are in cruise control

Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson will have to play well for the Magic to win.

The Orlando Magic have played five games so far this postseason. The Orlando Magic have also won five games so far this postseason.

After easily dispatching the No. 7 Charlotte Bobcats in the opening round of the playoffs, the Magic decisively took Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 114-71 beatdown of the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday night.

Despite frequent foul trouble for the team’s star, Dwight Howard, and general subpar play by Vince Carter, the Magic have never really come close to losing a game.

Why? Because the team is staying within its identity and playing the type of basketball the roster is designed for.

The Orlando Magic are a team of shooters with one dominant inside presence. And when it is played correctly, the results are fantastic. But one will not function without the other’s contributions.

Orlando’s offense is predicated on the drive-and-kick and post-up-and-kick phenomena. Jameer Nelson feeds Dwight Howard on the block, and if he can’t get to the hoop, he waits for the double team and kicks it to one of three or four open shooters. Alternatively, Nelson or Carter drives to the hoop, and if there’s no lane, one of them kicks it out to an open shooter.

The Magic are fortunate to have players like Rashard Lewis who can put pressure on the defense from both the perimeter and the interior and a plethora of shooters as targets for Howard’s kick outs.

So far in these playoffs, the system has worked great. Nelson is seeking retribution for not playing well in last year’s playoffs, Lewis shot over 50 percent in the team’s first-round series, and the role players (like Mickael Pietrus) are adding key contributions off the bench.

But that’s the bright side of the Magic. The Dr. Jekyll side, if you will. Mr. Hyde hasn’t yet shown up, and for the sake of Stan Van Gundy’s health, I hope he never does.

What happens when the three pointers stop falling? Dwight Howard bangs in the middle, kicks it out to the open man, and all they get out of it is a brick off the side of the rim. The shooters start to press and take contested 20-foot fadeaways. Dwight Howard loses his confidence in his teammates and tries to fight through two and three defenders at a time.

This is Orlando’s worst nightmare. And critics of the team will point out that the team’s five wins have come against two significantly weaker teams. What happens when they play teams like the Cavaliers or the Lakers who are aggressive in closing out shooters and have the height to contend with D12? We shall see.

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