LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland was marked by his playoff series against the Celtics and the constant examination of whether he has enough support on the team to go all the way.
In 2009 it seemed LeBron and the Cavs were mature and ready to win a ring. The Cavs made it to the Conference Finals against the Magic but everyone started to prepare for LeBron vs. Kobe in the Finals. Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Mickael Pietrus, and Rafer Alston didn’t seem like a serious threat – at least they were not treated as such.
The Magic were doing something weird at the time, something that can’t get you wins in the playoffs. They played a big guy with four shooters and launched a lot of threes every game. Sounds familiar? While Mike D’Antoni and the Suns with “7 seconds or less” get the most credit for the modern NBA offense, what Stan Van Gundy did in Orlando was also cutting edge at the time.
Even before the series started, commercials about Kobe vs. LeBron started to surface, and the Magic took notice. Nobody was taking them and their system seriously. This gave them all the motivation in the world not just to beat the Cavs, but to dominate them. Dwight Howard shared the team sentiment at Graham Bensinger:
“Everybody already wanted to see Kobe and LeBron in the Finals. They already had their puppet commercials going where it was Kobe and LeBron … Our team was very upset cause they already had Finals commercials. It was go time. We wanted to destroy the Cavs, every single game.”
LeBron performed in the series, scoring 49, 35, 49, 44, 37 and 25 in the six games. But, the Magic came out victorious after those six games. The seed of leaving the Cavs was planted with LeBron. Dwight had a monster Game 6, scoring 40 points and adding 14 rebounds to it as well.
With all his drama since going to the Lakers, we forget that Dwight Howard kicked LeBron out of a series and was considered to be one of the best young players in the league. Can he now help LeBron win with the Lakers? We shall see.