We get it that without the league's ultimate backstop, the defense isn't the same.
We get it that without that defensive safety net, Kendrick Perkins' foul totals will grow exponentially.
We get it that when a bailout shot is needed late in the clock, there isn't anyone else who can release over the top of any defender with such ease and accuracy.
We get all that in this Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Magic.
But what we don't get is how Orlando somehow is cast as a complete opponent, one entering unscathed now that Dwight Howard is back from his one-game suspension against Philadelphia for his Dalembert doink with his elbow.
Yes, it has been more than three months since Magic point guard Jameer Nelson was lost with a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
But there was a reason why, at midseason, before Nelson was sidelined, Orlando was viewed as legitimate as any contender in the Eastern Conference, up there with LeBron James and the Cavaliers, up there with a Celtics team that still had a healthy Garnett.
The outside impression of the Magic, a team hardly with the exposure of the Cavaliers or Celtics, one reduced to the level of NBA TV in the previous round, is that Orlando plays an inside-outside game through the post-up play of Howard.
It doesn't. And it hasn't the entire season.
Instead, the Magic is a team that creates Howard's inside offense and its 3-point shooting through deft pick-and-roll play.
It is Hedo Turkoglu coming off the screen with the threat to pull up for the jumper or attack the rim.
But mostly, when the Magic was at its best, it was Nelson doing so as well as anyone on the roster and perhaps anyone in the league.
Now that threat is gone.
It is the reason it took six games to get beyond a rather pedestrian 76ers team. And it is the reason when the Magic needed easy baskets to protect an ever-dwindling lead in its Game 1 victory over the Celtics, there were none.
While replacement starter Rafer Alston certainly has been a revelation, and remains a midseason pickup every bit as significant as the Bulls' additions of John Salmons and Brad Miller, he remains a yo-yo point guard.
He dribbles a lot. He is not perceived as a threat to get all the way to the rim, far more likely to launch some type of medium-percentage floater.
There is a reason the Rockets, in the midst of a playoff race of their own, were so willing to give up Alston in favor of third-year player Kyle Lowry just before the trading deadline.
No, Nelson doesn't mean as much to the Magic as Garnett does to the Celtics. This remains Howard's team.
But there is a reason the Magic was 16 games above .500 with Nelson in the lineup and 10 above the balance of the season after he was sidelined.
While Nelson might not be viewed as the ultimate championship point guard, his value to the Magic is significant.
To Stan Van Gundy's credit, even with Nelson traveling with the team, the fifth-year guard is barely mentioned. Unlike Garnett who is 99 percent out for the playoffs, Nelson is done after his surgery.
Instead, Van Gundy is left to glare at Alston just as he did when the pair was together in Miami in 2003-04, when Alston's titanic temper had him knocking over a locker-room refrigerator in a peak of anger.
And that's the thing, while many look at this year's Magic as a referendum on the plausibility of advancing deep into the playoffs with a 3-point mentality, this hardly is the best of the Magic.
The best of the Magic comes with Nelson in the lineup. When it came to offering Nelson a five-year, $30 million contract extension in October 2007, it came with the knowledge that it might be at the cost of losing Turkoglu in this summer's free agency.
When Nelson went down, it was just days after being selected for an All-Star berth. Instead, Lewis and Howard represented the Magic in Phoenix.
Ironically, Nelson's All-Star replacement was Celtics guard Ray Allen, whose 3-point stroke is offering Boston what Nelson no longer can offer the Magic. Even with his limited action, Nelson had enough conversions to rank second in the league in 3-point percentage; Allen closed tied for 26th.
Now, Nelson looks on from the bench, reduced to cheerleader, mentor and reminder of when the pick-and-role game was at its peak, when the opposition would send a second defender to protect the lane and make those 3-pointers for teammates standstill 3-pointers, instead of the more hurried attempts we saw in Game 1 of Celtics-Magic.
After Game 1, TNT analyst Kenny Smith addressed the Nelson void without directly addressing Nelson.
"There was one thing I noticed that I didn’t realize was so glaring," he said, "and that is the Orlando Magic backcourt, Rafer Alston and J.J. Redick. Really, when Boston got rolling, they couldn’t handle their backcourt with Eddie House, Stephon Marbury, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen. The big advantage that Orlando has on the inside, now it seems that Boston will feel that they have the same advantage on the perimeter."
That wouldn't be nearly the case with Nelson's speed to counteract Rondo's length.
Watch this series and these playoffs, and there are those ever-present images of Garnett, jaw clenched, cheekbones bulging, inner-fury seething. It is the constant camera shot of what the defending champions are missing.
There is no similar isolation camera on the Magic bench focusing on the little man who could have made his own huge a difference for his team this postseason.
Y! Sports: For Roy Hibbert, a sense of ownership means knowing he should have fought to get in the game with two seconds remaining in overtime, when his absence allowed LeBron James to hit the winning lay-up.
Take a look at photos from the playoffs, including the Magic finishing off LeBron and the Cavs in Game 6.
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
Is Howard fit for Los Angeles?
DPS: NBA analyst Kenny Smith joins Dan Patrick to discuss the Clippers’ coaching drama and if Chris Paul orchestrated the firing of Vinny Del Negro. Smith also believes Dwight Howard is trying to grab headlines in Los Angeles, and wonders if LA is the right fit for Howard.
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