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When the Cavaliers were swept out of the NBA Finals earlier this month, they joined the Orlando Magic as the only teams to be swept in their only Finals appearance to date. But having an 0-4 all-time record in the NBA's championship series is far from the only thing that links the Magic and Cavs. That Orlando team, which was swept by Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets in 1995, and the current Cavs team, have a number of parallels. Erik Cassano looks at the eerie similarities between the two teams.
When the Cavaliers were swept out of the NBA Finals earlier this month, they joined the Orlando Magic as the only teams to be swept in their only Finals appearance to date.
But having an 0-4 all-time record in the
championship series is far from the only thing that links the Magic and
. That Orlando team, which was swept by Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets in 1995, and the current
team, have a number of parallels. And if the
are wise, they'd pay attention, because the 1995 Magic serve as a cautionary tale.
Like the current
, the Magic of the mid-90s were vaulted into contention in a short amount of time, thanks in large part to winning the draft lottery. In 1992, the Magic selected
out of Louisiana State with the top pick. The following year, the Magic, despite narrowly missing the playoffs, landed the first overall pick again. The team selected Chris
and dealt him to the Warriors for Penny
and draft picks.
GM Pat Williams had surrounded
with a capable roster of veteran role players including sharpshooter Dennis Scott, former Bull Horace Grant and original team member Nick Anderson.
Like the current
, the Magic were the beneficiary of fortuitous playoff
during their Finals run. With Michael Jordan only having returned from his self-imposed baseball exile in February 1995, the Bulls were not ready to make a run at another title. With the Bulls still reloading, the Eastern Conference lacked a true alpha dog.
of this year, the Magic knocked off two of the East's traditional powers, the Bulls and Pacers, to reach the NBA Finals.
Even though the Magic were outclassed by the championship-tested Rockets in the Finals, everyone in basketball seemed to agree that the Magic were at the front end of a long run in the uppermost echelon of NBA teams.
and Penny were sure to be right alongside Jordan and Scottie
as the dynamic NBA duos of the '90s.
For one season, they lived up to the hype. Following their 57-25 Finals season, the Magic posted a franchise-best 60-22 mark and looked poised to give the 72-win Bulls a run for their money in the Eastern Conference finals. But the Bulls steamrolled the Magic in four straight. It turned out to be Orlando's swan song as a title contender.
left to become a
. Eventually the Bulls coach would become his coach and the two would team -- along with some guy named Kobe -- to win three NBA titles far, far away from central Florida.
The Magic patched the gaping hole left by
. They'd win 45 games in 1996-97 and lose to the Heat in the first round of the playoffs. Orlando would make the playoffs in four of the six years following
departure, but never made it out of the first round.
The Magic's fortunes continued to wither.
suffered a major knee injury during the 1997-98 season. He would never be the same player again, and was dealt to the Suns in 1999.
In 2000, Orlando signed both Grant Hill and Tracy
in free agency, but Hill allowed an ankle injury to worsen by continuing to play on it, and before long, a surefire hall of fame career had been sidetracked by a series of surgeries.
was quickly found out as a player who can put up bunches of points, but can't will his team to wins. He was traded to Houston for Steve Francis in 2004.
What does all this have to do with the current
? It's a living, breathing example of how next season is guaranteed to no team, how fast things can fall apart, even with the best-laid plans. And most knowledgeable basketball people would agree that the Magic roster of the mid-'90s was constructed of better material than the current
don't have a reinvigorated Jordan to deal with the way those Magic teams did. But they do have LeBron James, a young superstar whose inexperience was exposed on the league's biggest stage, just as Shaq's was 12 years ago.
Shaq played right into the hands of the Bulls defense in allowing Dennis
to harass him during the 1996 East finals.
did much the same thing in playing right into the teeth of the Spurs defense in this year's Finals. He's learning, much like
took what he learned and used it to help the
' object is to make sure
doesn't someday take the lessons he is learning in a
uniform and use them to win titles for another team.
The 1995 Magic and 2007
reached the Finals quickly after beginning a new era, were dominated by a superior team and chalked it up to a learning experience. The job of Dan Gilbert, Danny Ferry and Mike Brown is to make sure the similarities end there.
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