Around the Amway -- February 11, 2011



By Josh Cohen & Dan Savage | Around the Amway Archive

MAGIC EDGED BY HORNETS
By Josh Cohen

Throughout the entire fourth quarter, it felt like the Orlando Magic were ready to dig into their armory and deliver some sort of knockout blow that would finally end the New Orleans Hornets’ spirited play.

But instead, it was their opponent who carried the artillery that ended the Magic’s night in a flash.

In spite of another supreme performance from Dwight Howard (20 points, 17 rebounds) and consistent play from Orlando’s bench, the Magic suffered a 99-93 loss to the Hornets on Friday.

With several opportunities to either take a lead or tie in the final minutes, Orlando couldn’t execute the way it hoped – leading to unfavorable turnovers and contested jumpers.

"We've got to make better decisions with the ball, especially down the stretch," Howard said.

Earl Clark, nonetheless, enjoyed one of his finest performances since joining the Magic in December. He matched a career high with 14 points and also accumulated three blocked shots.

Reserves J.J. Redick and Gilbert Arenas, similarly, played steadily – combining for 25 points.

Willie Green had an outstanding night with 24 points for New Orleans, which played stifling defense in the fourth quarter limiting Orlando to just 13 points in the final frame. David West contributed with 17 points and Chris Paul dished out seven assists.

"Obviously you want to be able to compete with the better teams and they (Magic) are one of the better teams," West said.

The Magic will look to bounce back on Sunday when they host the two-time defending NBA champion L.A. Lakers at 3:30 p.m. on ABC.

Follow Josh Cohen on Twitter here
FEW THINGS TO FIX
By Dan Savage

The Orlando Magic have won just nine of their last 18 games. While that may seem like a cause of concern to some, in reality it’s not that alarming.

This recently assembled squad is showing signs of turning the corner, but there are just few things they need to fix.

PLAY INSIDE-OUT: When the Magic are playing their best basketball, they stick to the formula of playing inside-out. That’s where either the ball shoots into Dwight Howard and then he kicks it back out once the defense gets sucked in or one of the other players penetrates and then dishes the rock to an open shooter.

Right now Orlando is making a bad habit out of taking too many contested outside shots without attempting to get to the rim first.

LET DWIGHT DOMINATE: Related to the aforementioned point, the Magic need to operate their offense through their All-Star big man. After a spectacular first half, Orlando didn’t give Howard enough touches.

“That ball should have gone to him in the fourth quarter,” Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy explained. “We give (our perimeter players) the ball and we give them a lot of freedom and it’s not getting done that way so we have to find a different way.”

ENERGY AND EFFORT: When teams come to play the Magic, they’re always aware of the tall task at hand. However, Orlando had fallen into a rut recently of coming out flat to start the contest and expecting a lights-out shooting performance to bail it out later in the game.

While that may work from time to time, in the postseason that type of effort won’t cut it. It’s important that the Magic kick that habit ASAP.

“We’ve been doing that for a while now and it’s catching up with us,” Gilbert Arenas admitted.

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CHASE FOR THE MVP RANKINGS
By Josh Cohen

1) Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard’s soaring statistics (22.5 points, 13.8 rebounds, 2.1 blocks) could be one reason why the five-time NBA All-Star deserves the No. 1 ranking, but it’s possible that his vivacity to often play more than 40 minutes since December’s blockbuster trades and his recently improved decision making in terms of avoiding fouls could also be justifiable grounds.

2) Derrick Rose
Prior to the season, Derrick Rose was generally considered “among” the elite point guards in the NBA. After a dazzling first half of the campaign, however, some observers have elevated his status from one of the best to “the best” at his position. The two-time All-Star recently dominated one of his main competitors, Deron Williams.

3) LeBron James
Most NBA enthusiasts assumed that the only way LeBron James could ultimately capture a third consecutive MVP award was if he averaged a triple-double for the season. Although he will likely fall two or three assists and rebounds short of that accomplishment, James has still managed to showcase floor leadership in spite of playing alongside two other All-Stars.

4) Kobe Bryant
Year after year, you can’t help but wonder if there will be any decline in Kobe Bryant’s play. But I think what we have learned is that Kobe is, by and large, one of the fiercest, most dynamic competitors the game has ever seen. It’s possible that as long as he is playing, Bryant will remain an MVP candidate – just like Michael Jordan was during his days.

5) Kevin Durant
Very few will argue against the notion that Kevin Durant is the most wide-ranging scorer in the league. Aside from the fact that his scoring average is No. 1 in the NBA, Durant always finds a way to post big scoring numbers even when he is struggling shooting the ball.
TRADE DEADLINE APPROACHING
By Josh Cohen

There are 13 days until the NBA trade deadline and the curiosity on the minds of most Orlando Magic fans is whether President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith will try and make a deal to help bolster the team.

At the time of December’s trades that delivered Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas and Earl Clark, Smith said he would address the need for another big body to help serve as a backup to Dwight Howard.

There are just three games on the Magic’s schedule prior to the deadline and one can assume that Smith, who is renowned for pulling off one of the best trades at the deadline over the last several years when he acquired Rafer Alston during the 2008-09 season, will be watching these contests very carefully.

It’s possible that he will judge this team based on how they perform against the L.A. Lakers on Sunday. The following two games are against much more inferior competition – the Wizards and Kings.

It’s difficult to forecast what players – whether they are legit stars in the league or serviceable role players – will be made available by Feb. 24. Some notable names that have reportedly floated around in trade rumors over the past month include Carmelo Anthony, Steve Nash, Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson and Kevin Martin.

Irrespective of whether the Magic decide to finalize another trade, it’s imperative for Orlando to continue focusing on trying to improve and not be in any way distracted by any rumors that may come up. This time of year, almost every player is the subject of rumors and veterans in particular tend to understand how this business works.

One, as a result, can expect the Magic to be concentrated on the goal at hand over the next two weeks.
QUICK HITS
By Dan Savage

  • HISTORICAL HOWARD: With a team-high 20 points to go along with a contest-best 17 rebounds, Dwight Howard joined an elite club on Friday.

    Orlando’s Superman became just the fourth active player to record 100 or more games with at least 20 points and 15 rebounds.

    The other three: Shaquille O’Neal (215), Tim Duncan (162) and Kevin Garnett (153).


  • ELECTRIC EARL: The Magic’s loss spoiled a career night for Earl Clark.

    The second-year standout matched a career high with 14 points on an efficient 5-for-9 shooting performance from the field.

    He also rejected a career-best three shots, including a wicked block on David Andersen early in the fourth quarter.


  • COCKY CHRIS: “Too bad we’re not in the East,” said Chris Paul after being notified that the Hornets swept the Magic this season.


  • STAN STEAMED: It’s save to say that Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy is not happy with his team’s energy and effort of late, especially against some of the league’s better opponents.

    “We’ve lost eight straight to teams that are over .500 right now and we haven’t been able to play at the level we need to play, to play a team like that,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. It’s going to have to change.”
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