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Shaun Powell

Despite the extended drama and injury absence of Dwight Howard, the Magic are headed to the playoffs.
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

It's been a yin and yang season for the Magic

Posted Apr 17 2012 10:29AM

About the only thing we can say for certain for the Magic is that nothing is for certain. What is true today may not be true tomorrow. What seems right can go wrong. Hot and cold, up and down, this way and that, they all describe a weird season that -- hold on a second -- just got weirder.

Even more Dwamatic.

Dwight Howard is out indefinitely with a herniated disk. He may suit up for the postseason. Or not. Which means, Howard could've played his final game in Orlando, if he rekindles his trade demand this summer. Or because he's signed for next season, maybe he sticks around. Go. Stay. Who can tell with this guy anymore?

Or with this team?

With Howard out, and the wound of his public disagreement with his coach still fresh, the Magic did exactly what you thought they'd do Monday night: Video Whip a desperate Sixers team and clinch a playoff spot. And outrebound the Sixers by 16. Even without Howard. Of course.

Because just when you strongly suspect the team doesn't have much to play for anymore, just when you've concluded a team built around a superstar center can't possibly exist without him, the Magic go counter to logic.

What a team, and what a season. So far.

"These guys have put all that aside now, and they're just trying to play and win," said coach Stan Van Gundy. "Guys are doing whatever it takes."

Would it surprise you if the Magic, with or without Howard in the postseason, pulled a first-round surprise next month? Because that would follow a pattern that began last fall, a pattern dictated and directed by a player who was placed in, or rather put himself in, an awkward situation.

Here's how the good and bad have played out to this point:

Bad: Because of the lockout, the Magic went all summer and fall unable to kiss Howard's pinky ring and ask about an extension.

Good: The new labor deal made it slightly more favorable for existing teams to keep their free agents.

Bad: Dan Fegan, Howard's agent, asked Orlando to trade Howard and gave Magic management a list of three teams.

Good: The Magic ignored Fegan.

Bad: Bob Vander Weide, the club's top-ranking executive, was accused of calling Howard in the wee hours of the morning in an incoherent plea. Vander Weide later resigned and was replaced by Alex Martins.

Good: Martins kept his chats with Howard to a more reasonable hour.

Bad: Howard refused to back down from trade demands issued through his agent, at one point saying "nothing's changed."

Good: Howard and the Magic jointly put on a happy face for the All-Star Game in Orlando.

Bad: Howard kept waffling in the days leading up to the trade deadline.

Good: Howard decided at the 11th hour to exercise his option year, keeping him under contract with Orlando for one more year.

Bad: Van Gundy announced he is absolutely and positively and 100 percent sure the knife in his back was placed there by Howard.

Good: Van Gundy lived to see another day on the Magic bench.

Bad: Dwight pulled up lame with a creaky back that drew snickers and suspicions by conspiracy theorists, until it was determined he had a herniated disk and required rest.

Good: The Magic will be in the playoffs anyway.

So what happens from here? Well, Orlando is 3-4 without Howard. Only a dreamer would suggest the supporting cast can rally without him the way the Bulls did without Derrick Rose and the Lakers without Kobe Bryant. At least in the playoffs, anyway. Orlando is built for the inside-outside game with Howard and is primarily a jump-shooting team. When those shots don't fall, the Magic can turn into the Bobcats real quick.

"We definitely want him back because we know how dominant he can be on both ends of the floor," said Jason Richardson.

Even with Howard, does anyone think this team is equipped to challenge for a title? Without Hedo Turkoglu, who's done with a facial injury, and possibly with a less-than-100 percent Glen Davis, who's carrying a sprained knee? Most likely, they're a first-round survivor at best, and that's if Howard is completely healthy and totally recovered, both from the back injury and the awkward public fallout involving Van Gundy.

Maybe the best solution for all is to tell Howard to take the rest of the year off. There's no sense in rushing him back to play if he's not ready, or risk putting the franchise player in a position of turning into damaged goods. Remember, playoff basketball turns physical very quickly and the last thing the Magic need is for Howard to limp off the floor. Sure, he'd have an entire offseason to heal. But what an offseason it'll be for Orlando, with decisions to be made on the futures of Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith and quite possibly Howard, who has yet to declare if he's all in for the long term.

And without Howard's signature on a contract extension, the Magic will continue to exist in a state of uncertainty. Do they lay the blueprint for a future with Howard for one season, or start all over without him by dealing him this summer? And who will pull these strings, with Smith and Van Gundy possibly hanging on a ledge by their fingertips?

Strange as this season is going, next thing you know, Dwight will be putting another arm around Van Gundy. And Dwight might not even have a dagger in his hand this time around.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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