For Bulls fans, the rhetoric for the past two years has revolved around the idea that all we need to worry about is the Heat. The Heat are what the Pistons were to the 90's Bulls, the Heat are the best team in the league, the Heat are better than us, we need to sign a scorer to beat the Heat, etc.
But what if we never even face the Heat? It's unlikely, but if anyone is going to do our dirty work for us, it's going to be Orlando. Currently sitting at 3rd in the Eastern conference, they would be scheduled to play the Heat in the 2nd round of the playoffs, with the winner of that series facing us in the Eastern Conference finals if we hold on to the 1 seed. The good news for Bulls fans; The Magic actually have shown decent promise and match up well with the Heat.So far, the two teams have split the season series (home team in bold):
Orlando 102 Miami 89
Miami 90 Orlando 78
Orlando 104 Miami 98 (OT)
Miami 91 Orlando 81
Last year with fairly similar rosters, the teams again split the season series 2-2 and never met in the playoffs, with Orlando being upset in the 1st round by the Atlanta Hawks.
Orlando is going to be a tough out for anybody, but they have matched up well particularly with the Heat for the past two seasons. Orlando's strength is 3 pt shooting (.383, 3rd/30). They slow down the pace to junk up the game a bit (89.4 pace, 26th/30) and have a good defensive rating (9/30). Additionally, their strength in defense is forcing other teams to shoot jumpers and keeping players out of the lane with Howard. They force teams into shooting 72% jump shots, converting on a .423% eFG%
The Heat's weaknesses match up in a way that Orlando can expose them badly. Miami allows the 6th-highest 3pt% in the league, which is perfect for Orlando since they jack up 26.7 3's per game, by far the most attempts in the league. Furthermore, Miami gets a good chunk of their baskets from close shots, but when they do take jump shots 68% of the time, they convert at a .481 eFG%. They cannot expect to maintain this high percentage against the Magic. With Dwight Howard and Orlando's .423% eFG% allowed, you can expect to see more jump shots for Miami and less of them going in. Furthermore, Miami has a pretty decent pace (91.9, 13th/30) to try to generate posessions for its offense. This isn't going to happen against one of the slowest teams in Orlando.
Finally, the Heat's two biggest weaknesses are at pg (Mario Chalmers) and c (Joel Anthony), which are coincidentally Orlando's greatest strengths (Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard). Dwight Howard is going to straight up abuse Joel Anthony. Anthony is a great defensive player, but stands only 6' 9" and 245 lbs. Howard is 6' 11", 265 lbs, and one of the strongest players in the league. Howard has shot 30/54 this season against Miami for 56% and had his way with the Heat defense.
If these teams do meet up in the 2nd round, it is is going to be a junked up, 3 pt/jumper shooting series. If the Magic get hot from behind the line and are as successful in pounding the ball down low to Howard as they have been in previous meetings, it's conceivable that Orlando could take care of the biggest headache for Bulls fans and give us a hand in winning title #7. Let's hope that Orlando plays well the rest of the season to hold onto that #3 seed!