Cohen Courtside: Magic at Heat (12/18/11)



By Josh Cohen
December 18, 2011
AN EXHIBITION TO FORGET


MIAMI -- Though the preseason is devised to get players more conditioned and allow teams to start developing a rhythm and chemistry, there is no doubt that Orlando’s defeat to Miami in the first exhibition of two between the Sunshine State rivals was an essential wakeup call.

Rather than feel disheartened about their dreary performance, however, the Magic must utilize a loss like this one as a source of motivation and incentive to strive for vast improvement.

Forget the final stats and what the scoreboard suggests. Yes, you may glance at the box score and read a myriad of recaps that all insinuate a failed attempt at invalidating preseason expectations. But, let’s all be pragmatic about it; it’s an exhibition and players aren’t expecting perfection after a 161-day lockout.

Dwight Howard won’t register just five points on 2-of-9 shooting on a regular basis. No, Glen Davis is far better than his 2-for-8 performance and never again will Jameer Nelson miss all 10 of his shot attempts.

One can certainly expect, however, Stan Van Gundy and his coaching staff to spend countless hours at the Amway Center practice court the next several days preparing for their Christmas Day game in Oklahoma City.


CAN'T LET SAGA BE DISTRACTION


Cleveland ingested it two seasons ago; Denver gulped it up last year; New Orleans opted to eradicate its turn in the rotation and now, its Orlando’s juncture to contend with the gyrating and menacing free agent saga.

It’s becoming a widespread propensity in the NBA; superstars spend several outstanding years in one city, their contracts inch toward expiration and suddenly it’s an absorbing and inexhaustible storyline.

We are all obsessed with player movement and team architecture. You can read more about that here.

While it’s virtually impossible to forecast Dwight Howard’s day-by-day account – which in less than two weeks has already toggled in all different directions – it’s imperative for the Orlando Magic to not get swallowed up by all the unremitting drama.

Aside from his rumored desires, intentions and future endeavors, Howard is as committed as ever to the Magic organization and remains focused on helping the only franchise he’s ever played for capture the NBA championship.

And in effect, it’s essential for his teammates – all who believe this team as constructed can challenge other league powers for the grand prize – to prove to Howard they are the suitable supporting cast for a superstar of his caliber.

It’s why every game – regardless of the opponent and whether the Magic are home or away -- is equally important.

After wins, on one hand, conversations about potential trade destinations for Howard will shift toward dialogue about championships and superiority.

After losses, on the other hand, that vinegary taste of inauspicious trade talk will return.

There is really only one way to approach this season if you are a Magic coach, player or supporter: Play every second like it’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals.


J-RICH TO HAVE ALL-STAR SEASON?


When last season ended and Jason Richardson’s contract had expired, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the lethal sharpshooter would sign a mega deal with a salary-cap-space friendly franchise.

Even as recent as two weeks ago when teams and players were allowed to start negotiating after a new CBA was reached, the Magic were not mentioned as a possible landing spot for J-Rich.

But after sitting down with teams such as Chicago, Indiana, New Jersey and New Orleans, Richardson decided that Orlando was the best fit for him and he opted to re-sign with the team that traded from him in the middle of last season.

Despite not having the opportunity to spend an entire season learning Stan Van Gundy’s tactics, J-Rich flourished after arriving in Orlando. He finished second in the league in 3-pointers made (189) and was a firecracker for some of the Magic’s stirring victories, including one where he connected on an implausible four-point play against Philadelphia to send the game into overtime.

Like he did on Sunday in Orlando’s exhibition in Miami, in which he recorded 11 points in 29 minutes on 5-of-12 shooting from the field, Richardson will be expected to be the Magic’s second go-to option after Howard.

And maybe other than relying on Nelson to provide a boost in the late stages of a close game, Van Gundy will likely depend on J-Rich to handle the rock when the Magic are in need of a critical basket.

With All-Star Weekend in Orlando this season, there would be no more appropriate year than this one for J-Rich to earn a spot in the midseason classic.


BREAKOUT SEASON AHEAD: Ryan Anderson is one of very few players who is 6’10, stretches the floor because of his outstanding 3-point shooting and shows unrelenting determination on the glass.

After his 22-point, eight-rebound effort in Miami on Sunday, it’s not implausible for Anderson to transform into a Sixth Man of the Year type of player. J.J. Redick, meanwhile, who also tallied 22 points in Miami, may also be an eventual candidate for the same honor.

DWIGHT’S PROGRESSION: During the lockout, Howard spent a significant amount of time working with a personal shooting coach.

Though he didn't excel offensively on Sunday (five points, 2-of-9 shooting from the field and 1-of-4 from the line), all indications are that Dwight will add much more finesse to his arsenal this year.

THE TURKISH PUZZLE: Hedo Turkoglu’s rollercoaster career continues to be a puzzle nobody can really figure out.

Some argued Turk was a top 20 player in the NBA after helping the Magic advance to the NBA Finals in 2009. He, then, was sought after by a number of teams before deciding on a mammoth deal with the Raptors. After one grievous season in Toronto and following a trade to Phoenix that didn’t seem to rejuvenate his play, the 11-year veteran returned Orlando last December via a blockbuster deal.

Over a stretch of nine games subsequent of the trade, which were all Magic victories, Hedo seemed back to his old self – recording a triple-double in one game and a career-best 17 assists in another. But then suddenly, his performance deteriorated and by the time the playoffs rolled around, he seemed to have nothing in the tank.

Will Turkoglu find some constancy to his play this year? It’s critical that he does.

It didn’t really start too well after he had to leave Sunday’s game after slamming to the floor on a hard drive to the hoop in the second quarter.

MANY NBA STORYLINES: Start with the hulking Heat and their quest for redemption, slide over to the newly reformed and rapidly evolving Hollywood hostility between the Lakers and Clippers, add in the configuration of New York’s Broadway Bigs and finish it out with all the Howard commotion.

There is a plethora of interesting storylines spread across the league as we approach the start of this shortened 66-game regular season.

QUOTES OF THE NIGHT


PLAYER/COACH
QUOTES

Stan Van Gundy
"When you have a team that outscores you 22-0 on fast break points, they are clearly playing at a pace and energy level higher than what you are."

LeBron James
"We have a two-headed monster (Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole) and that is a good thing to have."

The only way we are going to win basketball games is if we defend. That is going to give us the best possible chance to win; if we defend and then rebound. That is our staple."

J.J. Redick
"It's never fun to get your butt kicked. We have a ways to go."

"We had won 21 straight exhibition games and have yet to win a championship. In the scheme of things, it matters if we get better and improve."

Dwight Howard
"There's no need to point fingers. It's like I told the guys in the locker room, there's no need to panic and get frustrated."






What stood out the most from Sunday's preseason game in Miami?
What stood out the most from Sunday's preseason game in Miami?
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