Monday, May 24, 2010
Of course it can be said that any basketball team will be at a disadvantage if they go into a matchup having to face a team they were not expecting. This just makes sense. What I can't help but to wonder now, as the Orlando Magic hobble back home after narrowly avoiding a sweep, is whether there is a special kind of disadvantage when a team wrongly expects to face the best player in the world.
To think of the kind of psychological buildup necessary to prepare for LeBron James is to understand what it means to pit yourself up against the weight of the world. It must go beyond merely assigning yourself the self-inspiring underdog status and become the sort of feeling that allows a complete sense of freedom from external pressures. Think about it. If, as I had predicted, the Magic were playing the Cavs in these Eastern Conference Finals, they would have been going in as the team that no one would expect to win, even though they had been on a tremendous tear leading up to the point.
Instead, they have gone into this series with the Celtics as perhaps favorites, and if not that, a team without any real psychological footing. The Celtics do not offer the sort of drama off of which a team like the Magic could feed. Despite their success over the past few years, they do not give a team like the Magic those performance-enhancing butterflies. They never gave Orlando a chance to shock the world, because no matter what happened this series, it likely wouldn't have really shocked very many people.
The pragmatic way of looking at this is to say, "The Celtics offer tougher all-around matchups than the Cavs would have," or "Rondo is a caliber of point guard Orlando had not yet faced these playoffs, nor would they have faced in Mo Williams," or "Boston is just such an experienced team!" These are the things people are saying, no?
But, really, it seems just as likely to me that this performance by Orlando--which, I promise, has been far more disappointing than what it would have been against Cleveland--may have an explanation that lies in something less tangible: the tragedy of broken promises, the burden of misplaced expectations, and the robbery of the all-too valuable role as giant-killer.
Posted by Adam Kaufman at 10:21 PM