Denton: Magic Ready For Preseason Rematch

By John Denton
December 20, 2011

ORLANDO – Clearly, Dwight Howard was joking when he said on Sunday following an ugly loss to the Miami Heat that it didn’t matter much if his Orlando Magic lost both of its preseason games by 50 points apiece.

Howard had to be joking considering the intensity and effort that his Magic poured into practice on Tuesday in preparation for Wednesday night’s rematch against the Heat at Amway Center.

Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy appealed to the team’s pride on Tuesday, imploring the players to run harder on fastbreaks and be tougher defensively in an effort to get dramatically better before the regular-season opener on Christmas Day. And, of course, the Magic want to be significantly better Wednesday against the Heat after losing 118-85 in Miami on Sunday night. The result meant very little in the grand scheme of things, but it bothered many of the Magic players to their core because of the embarrassing nature of the lopsided loss.

``Of course, you want to bounce back from what happened and that’s why there was more pep in our step and more fire today in practice,’’ said Magic point guard Jameer Nelson, who missed all 10 of his shot attempts in Sunday’s loss. ``It’s one of those things where you look in the mirror afterward and check yourself. The game (against the Heat), we want to win it, but we want to get better. That should be the focus right now.’’

Van Gundy has been blunt to the Magic, telling them that there can be no easing into things considering the difficult nature of the team’s schedule to start the regular season. Orlando faces Western Conference Finalists Oklahoma City on Christmas night and returns home the next night to play a rested Houston Rockets team. Right away, the Magic play six games in the first nine nights of the regular season.

The need to speed up the improvement process was put into effect on Tuesday when the Magic focused strictly on defense and running in transition. Orlando was gashed in the second half on Sunday and the Heat held a shocking 22-0 edge in fastbreak points.

``We worked very hard on just playing a lot harder and running back a lot harder,’’ Van Gundy said. ``We’re trying to make extra efforts. It was a long and hard practice and we’re trying to get them to make them push them when they are tired. It was really about our defense and pace.

``It was by far the best day we’ve had in terms of that, but now we need to have a good day (Wednesday) and Thursday and get in the habits,’’ Van Gundy continued. ``Today was a step forward. How much of a step forward we’ll be determined by whether or not this is consistently how we’re going to work in practice.’’

Howard was one of those players working in practice on Tuesday despite internet rumors continuing to swirl that a trade from the Magic could be coming soon. No such truth to the rumor, of course, and Howard will be playing in front of the full Amway Center crowd on Wednesday for the first time in more than seven months. He was given a standing ovation and had his name chanted last Saturday during an open scrimmage the team held at the arena.

Howard reacted angrily on Tuesday when he was asked if his subpar performance on Sunday had anything to do with the trade rumors surrounding him. He made just two of nine shots for five points in 29 minutes. But Howard was very effective in other departments, swatting three shots, grabbing six rebounds and handing out three assists.

```It’s the first game, everybody didn’t have a great first game and everybody didn’t win their first preseason game. So does that mean everybody who lost is tanking the game or mailing it in?’’ Howard asked.

Howard, the only player in NBA history to win three straight Defensive Player of the Year trophies, said it was insulting to him, his character and his work ethic to insinuate he wouldn’t play hard just because he has issued a trade request.

``People who know me and know basketball know I would never to do that to my team, to my fans and to the game of basketball,’’ he said. ``So people are going to say whatever they want to say right now because of the situation that is going on. Every little thing is going to be magnified times 100.

``There’s no need to go back and forth (about claims that) he’s mailing it in. It’s kind of silly that people would even think that way about me because of the person that I am,’’ he continued. ``I would never do anything to the game of basketball and I have too much respect for the game, too much respect for my teammates and too much respect for myself. You know, it’s just silly.’’

Howard said he is focused on this season and helping the Magic improve from Sunday night’s pasting at the hands of the Heat. He said Tuesday’s focus was on correcting some of the first-game mistakes, and he predicted that fans would see a different result on Wednesday.

``Today is a new day and we just have to put that (Sunday loss) behind us because we didn’t play well. Now, it’s all about playing better in this next game instead of dwelling on all the mistakes that we made,’’ he said. ``We did a lot of dwelling on the past last year and it was always in our heads. I just told the guys to stick together because we’re going to play better.’’

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at

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