Tough Road Ahead for Orlando

The 2007-08 season has been a nice surprise to many Magic fans, as the team overachieved somewhat and posted their first 50-win campaign and division title in 12 years. Orlando set a franchise record by notching 27 victories away from the Amway Arena, Dwight Howard became the youngest rebounding champion in NBA history, and Hedo Turkoglu vastly improved his game to near All-Star level.

Unfortunately for Orlando, all of these positives will quickly be forgotten if they can't win four out of their next seven games against a Toronto Raptors, a team that poses multiple matchup issues for the Magic.

Just a month ago, Orlando seemed to be cruising toward the Southeast division title and a number three seed in the Eastern conference. Although they did hold on to achieve both, their outlook has changed significantly. A month ago, Orlando's likely first-round matchups appeared to be the offensively challenged Philadelphia 76ers, or the injury-riddled Washington Wizards, both teams the Magic have handled in the regular season and seem to match up well against.

The Toronto Raptors went in the tank winning just 8 of their final 24 games, and dropping from the fifth-seed in the Eastern conference to the seventh, then finishing out at the #6 spot and lined up for a first-round date against the Magic. Although the Raptors are not playing their best basketball, and the Magic have defeated them two out of three times this year, the Raptors are by far the most dangerous first-round opponent for Orlando. Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell spoke about the matchup–

"We understand they're going to be picked to beat us, but we've had three good games with them this season (and two losses) and the games could have went either way," Mitchell said.

That's more than just coach speak. Raptors All-Star power forward Chris Bosh has schooled Orlando's Dwight Howard not only this season, but all throughout his career. Bosh has averaged 33 points per game and 7.5 rebounds against Orlando this season. To prove it is no fluke, Bosh put up 34.3 ppg., and 11.3 rpg. against Howard and the Magic a year ago. Orlando's best player, Howard, has averaged 24.3 ppg., and 12.7 rpg. against Bosh and the Raptors.

Perhaps the worst matchup for Orlando will be any of Orlando's three point guards, Jameer Nelson, Keyon Dooling, or Carlos Arroyo against the Raptors Jose Calderon. Calderon is lightning fast, and his great ball instincts make him capable of beating his man and finding an open teammate anywhere on the court. Although the 26-year old guard's statistics against Orlando won't make anyone's head spin (just 14.3 ppg., and 7.3 assists per game), he is more than capable of lighting up the court from the three-point arc as he shoots nearly 43% against the Magic.

"If we play like we're capable of playing and like we've played in stretches, do I think we can win? Yeah," said Sam Mitchell.

The Raptors should feel confident. Out of their two losses to the Magic, one of which was in early November before Toronto really had the rotation figured out. The other came in March, in a game in which the Raptors didn't have Chris Bosh. In the middle game of the series in which Toronto was at full strength, the Raptors torched Orlando to the tune of nearly 59% from the field en route to a 127-110 victory.