Cohen Courtside: Magic vs. Pistons (4/9/12)

By Josh Cohen
April 9, 2012

In Cohen Courtside, Josh Cohen examines the state of the Orlando Magic after games this season. He will tackle sidebar storylines and focus on topics that stretch far beyond the box score. There will also be some analysis on league-wide subjects.


ORLANDO -- There is no such thing as a must-win in the regular season unless it’s a game that if you lose, you are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

But considering playoff seeding has historically been an imperative component to ultimate success or failure, in many ways these final handful of games for the Orlando Magic feel like must-win contests.

If you care at all about history and statistical percentages, you would concur that attaining a high seed is critical for Orlando’s goal of capturing the NBA championship. Only once in NBA history since the league adopted a 16-team postseason tournament in 1984 has a team seeded lower than No. 3 in their conference won the title (Houston in 1995).

As a result, while it’s not necessary for the Magic to triumph in every one of their last 10 games, it is essential to win most, especially games against far more inferior competition.

When it was announced earlier on Monday that Dwight Howard would be absent against the Detroit Pistons because of recurrent back pain, there was a Central Floridian cringe spread far and wide. You couldn’t help but be concerned that without their franchise superstar, the Magic may stumble and make it more difficult to climb in the standings.

However, whether it was a consequence from Saturday’s inspiring effort in Philadelphia or merely a collective accepting of how important Monday’s affair was, Orlando delivered one of its best, most rousing performances of the season.

You can applaud a myriad of aspects of the Magic’s thrashing of the Pistons.

For one, Glen Davis, who has been dominant since Howard’s injury began more than a week ago, delivered another tremendous performance with 16 points and 16 rebounds.

For so long this season, there was excess scrutiny about Davis’ role and benefits compared to his predecessor, Brandon Bass, whom he was traded for during training camp.

Gradually, however, “Big Baby” has proven he has far greater assets than Bass and it is finally starting to be revealed over the past few weeks. Davis is relentless down low, showcases a variety of post moves, is a beast on the glass and despite being undersized in stature, can effectively defend opposing centers.

It was also rejuvenating to see Jason Richardson, who has struggled this year after finishing second in the league last season in 3-pointers made, start to show signs of escaping from his extended slump. J-Rich connected on six threes and tallied a game-high 22 points.

Another riveting feature from Monday’s win: Ish Smith and his lightening speed and impressive decision-making. In just 18 minutes, Smith, who earned significant minutes as a result of Chris Duhon’s one-game suspension, dished out seven assists.

Such a splendid performance raises a popular debate in Orlando. Should Stan Van Gundy make Smith the primary backup point guard instead of Duhon?

Duhon has had a bounce back season compared to last year when Gilbert Arenas ultimately replaced him after the Magic completed those two blockbuster trades. He’s shooting a career-best 45 percent from 3-point range and when motivated seems to have the capability to defend well.

But at the same time, you wonder if Smith’s blazing speed and aptitude to break down his defenders can boost Orlando’s offensive attack. It will be interesting to see if Van Gundy decides to switch it up more or if Duhon will continue to get the plethora of minutes when Jameer Nelson needs a breather.

It was refreshing to see Ryan Anderson back after a sprained ankle kept him out for three games. He, J.J. Redick and Nelson all enjoyed spectacular outings with a combined 52 points.

After Monday’s victory, the Magic pulled even with the Atlanta Hawks for the fifth spot in the East. The Hawks own the tiebreaker as a result of their two previous wins.

Indiana rolled past Toronto to remain one game ahead of Orlando for the No. 3 slot. The Magic, however, do have the tiebreaker with the Pacers and would earn the higher seed if they end up with the same record at the end of the season.

"Obviously we want to get the best seed we can," Anderson said. "But we aren't putting pressure on ourselves. It's been a different year in a lot of ways. The goal is to win and we just want to make sure we are playing our best basketball when the playoffs start."

Orlando travels to the nation’s capital for a clash with the Wizards on Tuesday. It will be the Magic’s first back-to-back since they played the Heat and Bulls on March 18 and 19. Howard is doubtful to return.

Who do you think was Monday's Star of the Game?
Who do you think was Monday's Star of the Game?
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