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A Magical solution to the Blue Devils' problems

If you're a Duke basketball fan keeping up with the NBA Finals, you've probably noticed some eerie similarities between the Orlando Magic and our very own Blue Devils.

I'm not referring to occasional J.J. Redick cameos, when he comes into the game and takes an ill-advised jump shot or two.

No, I'm talking about the fact that the Magic utilize the same offensive scheme last year's Duke team did, working with an undersized lineup that thrives on shooting 3-pointers. There's just one large difference-Orlando has a dominant center that allows it to play small, spread the floor more effectively and create space for its shooters.

Many Duke fans have speculated that the Blue Devils were one good big man away from making a Final Four run last year. The Magic seem to have proven this theory, as Dwight Howard's presence on the floor gives their three-point shooters wide-open looks.

This is especially true with respect to forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, who fill the exact same roles that Duke wings Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler did.

The 6-foot-10 Lewis is a matchup nightmare in the NBA.Though undersized, he's a deadly sharpshooter from beyond the arc. Lewis's versatility was on full display in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, when he finished with 34 points, including 6-of-12 from long distance, by repeatedly torching slower Laker power forwards .

Singler held a similar role in the offense as an undersized power forward for the Blue Devils, preferring to stay on the perimeter and knock down outside shots. In fact, in Duke's lone win over North Carolina in the past three years, part of the Blue Devils' success came because of Singler's ability to draw Tyler Hansbrough away from the painted area and make threes.

Turkoglu, meanwhile, is also a skilled perimeter shooter but has carved out more of a niche for himself as a slasher and creator. In crunch-time situations, the Magic often give Turkoglu the ball and let him improvise. Last year, Henderson played almost the same way, as a solid jump shooter who also did damage attacking the rim.

But the crucial point in this analogy, the difference between success on the part of the Magic (dethroning the defending champions and the MVP on their way to the finals) and failure on the part of Duke (getting beaten by Villanova in the Sweet 16) is the final piece of the puzzle for Orlando-their very own Superman.

The Magic have been successful because Howard is a rebounding machine. His offensive game is nothing spectacular-most of his points come on put-backs and dunks, and Howard does not have any dominating low-post moves or a reliable jump shot.

But solely because of his size and strength, Howard has averaged 15.3 rebounds per game in the playoffs. His presence allows players like Lewis and Turkoglu to get away with parking on the perimeter, because they know they have Howard to pick up the slack on the boards.

Duke lacked a stabilizing force that would have allowed its undersized lineup to make noise in March, like the Magic have done this month. The Blue Devils didn't need Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas to be Dwight Howard, nor did they need their two interior players to be prolific scorers. Duke simply needed a big man to rebound, block shots and draw attention in the paint.

This coming year, both of Duke's recruits are Dirk-Nowitzki style big men-Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly- whose strength is in their versatility, not in their skills in the paint (though in fairness to Plumlee and Kelly, they are just freshman. No one saw Redick turning into a scoring machine, so watching either turn into a legitimate presence down low shouldn't come as too big a surprise).

Consequently, the Blue Devils didn't fill the hole that plagued them in 2008-09. In the loss to Villanova that ended the Blue Devils' season, Duke was outrebounded, 49-34, by an equally perimeter-oriented team.

It should also be noted that the Magic have succeeded despite having mediocre guard play. Their shooting guard position is a rotation between Redick, Courtney Lee and Mickael Pietrus, all of whom have struggled offensively in the playoffs.

And even after the loss of All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson to a shoulder injury in February, the team has progressed through the playoffs with a less capable replacement, Rafer Alston. The guard play was so unreliable that Turkoglu ran the offense in the waning moments of Game 2.

But the Magic have kept winning with their versatile lineup because they have a big man who can get rebounds and take up space in the paint, showing that the Blue Devils could win even without All-American guards. And until Duke obtains that key component, it doesn't matter how many guard-forward hybrids or three-point shooting big men are on the roster. The Blue Devils will continue to lose to elite teams because they don't have any real post presence.

At least Duke fans can take comfort in the fact that their coach wears a suit and tie, as opposed to a T-shirt under a blazer.

But unfortunately, Stan Van Gundy has figured out how to navigate the postseason with an offense based on 3-point shooting, while the Blue Devils have not.


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