Many around the NBA thought the Orlando Magic overpaid for Rashard Lewis when they signed him to a $118 million contract after acquiring him in the offseason. Through three games, though, Lewis has proven to be worth his team's substantial investment.
Lewis leads the Magic into Tuesday's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team very familiar with Lewis' style of play.
Before being traded to the Magic (2-1), the 6-foot-10 Lewis had played for the Seattle SuperSonics - a Northwest Division rival of the Timberwolves (0-2). He averaged 16.8 points in 26 games against them since becoming a starter in the 2000-01 season, and scored 35 points against them March 27 in a 116-104 victory.
In his first three games, Lewis has been the consistent perimeter scorer the Magic lacked last season, when they were swept by the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Lewis has made 50 percent (7-for-14) of his shots from three-point range and is shooting a team-best 56.4 percent from the field.
His 21.7 points per game rank second on the team to Hedo Turkoglu, who has been able to find more open space with Lewis on the floor. Turkoglu is averaging a team-high 22.0 points and made 8 of 15 shots (53.3 percent) from beyond the arc.
All-Star center Dwight Howard has been another beneficiary of Lewis' arrival. the Magic's constant on the boards. He is among the top 10 in the league in rebounding at 13.3 per game league, and has shouldered more of a leadership role, evidenced Saturday in Orlando's 94-82 win at Washington.
"A couple of my teammates were saying they were tired (with eight minutes left)," Howard said. "I said, 'We've got to fight through this, man. We can't be tired.' We stepped it up from that moment on and just had a good fourth quarter.''
Howard has averaged 14.3 points and 15.5 rebounds in six lifetime games versus Minnesota, and Wittman is weary of the new dynamic Lewis has created, moreso since Howard grabbed 41 rebounds in the two games last season.
"The thing that's a little different with him this year is having Lewis over there," said Wittman, an assistant with the Magic during the 2005-06 season. "He's playing the four position and spreading the floor a little bit more with Dwight in the post."
Minnesota has struggled offensively in its two games and is 25th in both shooting percentage and foul shooting percentage. Despite those woes, the Timberwolves led the Denver Nuggets in the fourth quarter of their opener and lost 97-93 at New York on Sunday.
"You look at the (New York) game, we were right there at the end in this game and the game before,'' said forward Ryan Gomes, one of 10 new players on the Timberwolves roster. "The last five minutes we didn't convert on some easy baskets. I think we're confident where we are but of course you want to win at the end."
Gomes has averaged 14.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in his first two games, and Rashad McCants - one of the few holdovers - is scoring a team-high 18.0 points per game and leads the team with six 3-pointers.
Orlando has won two of its last three games in Minnesota.
Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited