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With Stan, Dwight chastened, some Magic is gone

Posted on: March 28, 2011 1:25 pm
NEW YORK -- The basketball microscope in New York is focused squarely on the Knicks, who stumble into their second game in six days against Orlando Monday night on a six-game losing streak and in full-blown crisis mode as they try to adjust to the franchise-shaping trade for Carmelo Anthony

But what of their opponent? The Magic, a perennial championship contender in each of Stan Van Gundy's four seasons as coach, are having an identity crisis of their own. Three months after a pair of similarly impactful trades, Orlando is still trying to relocate its bread and butter. 

After sending Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus to Phoenix and Rashard Lewis to Washington in December, the Magic are still top 10 in the league in the major defensive categories -- points allowed (fifth), opponent field-goal percentage (fourth), and opponent three-point percentage (eighth). They remain mired in an astonishing trend at the other end of the floor, averaging 15.5 turnovers per game. During that stretch, the Magic have beaten the Heat but lost to the Lakers, Bulls, and even the Warriors

What Orlando's identity will be come playoff time remains a mystery to Van Gundy -- and, to some extent, to the other person who should be creating the identity. Dwight Howard came into the season vowing to stop having so much fun and start getting serious, but that promise is up in the air -- especially since his aggressiveness has been taken away since receiving his 16th technical foul March 4 against Chicago. 

"Same guy," Howard said recently when asked if he's changed since the one-game suspension he received automatically for the 16th tech. "I get upset about the way guys foul me. But it's not about the way things are called. Somebody fouls and after the foul they continue to foul me, and I get upset at the refs because they allow that. My teammates are trying to do a better job of coming and consoling me so I don’t say anything else." 

Van Gundy, too, is trying to do a better job of filtering his opinions since being blasted by commissioner David Stern over a rant in which Van Gundy likened Stern to an evil dictator when asked to plead his case that Howard shouldn't have been suspended. All this means that the two most important figures in Orlando's push to get back to the NBA Finals, Howard and Van Gundy, have been muzzled -- Van Gundy off the court and Howard on it. 

"I'm not a dirty player. I'm not a dirty person," Howard said. "I would never try to hurt anybody on the court. That's not who I am. That's not how I play." 

How the Magic will play when the playoffs roll around remains a mystery. With Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkolgu all fixtures in Van Gundy's rotation, it's little wonder the Magic are a worse defensive team than they were before the trades. That was expected. But without backup from Gortat, Howard is faced with a dilemma: How can he be the lone enforcer around the basket for a team that badly needs one to make up for perimeter defensive deficiencies while at the same time worrying about flagrants, technicals and the growing (and unfair) perception that he's a dirty player? How can he live up to his preseason "no more Mr. Nice Guy" promise while still carrying his fun-loving demeanor with him from the locker room to the floor? 

"I'm still the same person," Howard said. "I just know when to turn it on and turn it off. One thing my teammates said at the beginning of the year is, they don’t want me to just be this mean guy because they look forward to me coming in the locker room and just having a pretty good time. And I know when it's time to get serious. They don’t want me to change who I am for other people. 

"Other people I guess wanted to see me get more serious, but I've never played around with basketball," Howard said. "But I just know that fans come to the games to be entertained. I'm not a UFC fighter. I don’t have to go out there and growl every two minutes to show my team. I just have fun and that's what it's all about." 

How much fun the Magic have in the playoffs will depend on solving their turnover mystery and regaining some semblance of defensive consistency. Both of those problems are fixable. The bigger dilemma will be getting Howard to play once again with abandon, without concern for whistles or perceptions, and getting the irascible Van Gundy to lose the filter that Stern surgically implanted between his upper and lower lip. For better or worse, the NBA needs the old Dwight and Stan back. More than ever, so do the Magic.

Since: Jan 4, 2007
Posted on: March 28, 2011 10:46 pm

With Stan, Dwight chastened, some Magic is gone

Dwight Howard has to wear body armor to stay healthy. Fact...when he removes the Magic jersey and you see that black tank top he wears...that has kevlar sheets sewn into it to protect his ribs. The guy has to actually wear ARMOR to play the game and he is on the vergre of going 2 seasons without a single defender being called for a flagrant?!?!?!

And congrats Knicks you just beat the Magic in OT after Dwight and Turk fouled out and Nelson didn't even dress.

Since: Mar 6, 2011
Posted on: March 28, 2011 8:38 pm

With Stan, Dwight chastened, some Magic is gone

Good comment.

Its true, the Magic are playing better.  Ive not understood why they have gotten so little attention all year.  People at first talked about the Heat.....but of course that has stopped. And Boston.......up until the trade.  And now Chicago is the sexy pick to come out of the east.  I agree the Bulls are now the team to beat..BUT where is Orlando in all this talk?  Howard is probably the most valuable player in the league. He may not get MVP -- but honestly, who would you pick to build a team around? Rose or Howard or LeBron????  I take Howard.  In the playoffs, he will get his game face back. Van Gundy will open up again. IF Arenas can even approach his old form, Orlando is going to be very tough for the Bulls.  Turk is returning to form, and Jason Richardson will step up when the game matters....he's just got a bit of lazy in his game.  That said, they miss Pietrus......they lack a lock down guy for those slashing fowards.  But then Chicago is the only team i see with any chance to beat them at this point. Nelson must up his game, and Richardson must make more effort on defense. IF they do, I think I pick the Magic to meet the Spurs !!

Since: Dec 10, 2006
Posted on: March 28, 2011 8:33 pm

With Stan, Dwight chastened, some Magic is gone

Howard has a right to be mad at how he is fouled. If anyone manhandled Kobe or Pierce like they manhandle Howard there would be a riot on the court, in the stands and on the bench. Just because he is big and strong does not make the extra pounding ok. He also gets no calls when an opponent hits him- the opponent goes flying and the ref sides with the weaker player.

Time for refs and the league to "man up".

Since: Jun 4, 2008
Posted on: March 28, 2011 7:32 pm

With Stan, Dwight chastened, some Magic is gone

I agree this article is late. How is a team on a 5 game win streak waning?

Since: Jan 24, 2008
Posted on: March 28, 2011 2:38 pm

With Stan, Dwight chastened, some Magic is gone

I know Berger is a knowledgable basketball fan and I like to read most of his stuff.   However, this article is about 2 weeks too late.  Yes, the Magic lost to the Lakers after the trade, but they beat them after the trade as well.  convincingly I might add.  The problems on defense come from off the ball defense.  However, their defense has been WAY better in the last week and a half or so.  The Magic are really starting to put it together and at the rght time.  Turk is playing very well.  He is starting to become the old Turk and take some of the pressure off of the PG's with his ball distribution (in 2 of the last three games he has had at least 9 dimes).  Turk may not be the best individual defender, but he is a very good team defender and he has played good team defense lately.  SVG's defensive system works because of team defense, not individual defense.  Bass has played exceptionally well as of late as well.  SVG is really starting to get him the ball more and he is taking advantage as most teams lay off of him.  JRich has been hot since the all-star break and continues to find ways to score.  Also, let's not forget Ryan Anderson, who has played well the last week or so. 

With respect to Arenas, we all know he is not worth his contract and I believe the Magic knew that when they traded for him.  He has played better since the All Star break with the exception of a few games.  The Magic still need more from him though. 

I have to agree with Berger that they need to find ways to cut down on their turnovers as lately (last 3 weeks or so) they have been averaging about 18 a game.  About half of those turnovers though are from Dwight Howard.  I am not overly concerned with his turnovers though as maybe he is itching for the playoffs to start and I really do not expect to see Howard turn it over a ton in the playoffs (he had 9 turnovers in one game a few games back).  However, I am concerned still about the PG position.  Everyone seems to be hitting their stride now on the team with the exception of the PG's.  Nelson and Arenas have played inconsistently, at best, and Duhon can not be relied upon to score the ball when defenders go below a pick and roll at the top of the 3 point line (a play the Magic run a ton of).  Nelson has shown flashes of his All star form of a few years ago and he will have to play that way consistently for the Magic to have a chance.

All in all, the Magic are gelling at the right time and I do see scenarios where they could make a deep run in the playoffs.  They mut get consistent play from the PG position and they need Turk to distribute the ball effectively to take pressure of of them.  I believe the two teams that will really give them te mist problems are, in order, Chicago and Boston.

Chicago plays very good on the ball and interior defense and shuts down a ton of passing lanes.  As a result, the ball stops moving and the Magic invariably take contested 3 point shots.  Moreover, they are a GREAT rebounding TEAM.  Everytime I see them play, all 5 guys on the floor are always hitting the boards very hard.  This limits your opponents shot chances and also creates some on the other end of the floor.  That is the way they win, defense and rebounding, and they are a very solid team.

Boston poses the same problems defensively for the Magic.  They play great interior defense and also very good on the ball defense thereby slowing the ball movement and forcing opponents into bad shot selection.  Although they are not as good on the boards as Chicago is, they pose a different problem for the Magic with their ability to hit open 3's.  The weakest part of Orlando's defense is closing out on the perimeter. 

Also, both team's PG play is vastly superior to that of the Magic as well.  The Magic will have to be hitting on all cylinders to beat either one of those teams.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or