Cohen Answers Popular Questions

By Josh Cohen
February 2, 2011

I have kept track of some of the more popular questions that Orlando Magic fans have at this point of the season and decided to provide my answers and analysis to a few of the more striking curiosities.

QUESTION: How important is Thursday’s game against the Miami Heat for the Orlando Magic?

ANSWER: It’s extremely important, but it can’t be considered essential since no regular season game is unless it’s the last game of the year and a team must win to qualify for the playoffs.

The Magic need an enormous boost of confidence after a few disappointing performances over the last two weeks.

As Stan Van Gundy has emphasized throughout the entire season (pre and post trades), Orlando has not been competing hard enough on the defensive end and is persistently relying on 3-point shots to save them.

Orlando, in addition, is trying to overcome a recent injury bug that has suddenly plagued the roster. Brandon Bass sprained his left ankle during Monday’s loss in Memphis, both Jameer Nelson and Gilbert Arenas are dealing with knee issues, J.J. Redick was absent against the Grizzlies with a sore left shoulder and Hedo Turkoglu has lower back pain.

My expectation is that among the hobbled, only Bass will miss Thursday’s game against Miami. Although we are still awaiting a final verdict on his diagnosis, Bass looked way too injured to be back in such a short period of time.

A victory against the Heat, especially if they are shorthanded, would dramatically improve the psyche of the team. Not only would they feel self-assured that even with a depleted roster they can beat the other upper-echelon opponents, but the Magic would remain within reasonable distance of catching Miami in the standings.

While it isn’t imperative for the Magic to earn a top three seed in the conference by the start of the playoffs, it would be helpful. As I have documented in the past, in the last 10 years only last season’s Celtics advanced to the NBA Finals from the East with a seed of No. 4 or lower.

Just like he did the last time Orlando played Miami on Nov. 24 when he posted 24 point and 18 rebounds in a Magic victory, Dwight Howard should again dominate the Heat’s relatively deficient interior.

Nelson, similarly, should have momentum against Miami’s point guard duo of Mario Chalmers and Carlos Arroyo. In the November meeting, Mighty Mouse buried a pair of critical jumpers late and finished with 17 points and a career-best 14 assists.

January was generally a substandard month for the Magic – considering they had matched a franchise high with nine consecutive victories early on before stumbling against teams like the Pistons and Grizzlies.

It would be enchanting and, in some ways, relieving if Orlando can knock off Miami and, in effect, reestablish some supremacy in the Eastern Conference.

QUESTION: Will Gilbert Arenas ever again become the scoring sensation that had once propelled him to stardom?

ANSWER: Depending on whom you talk to, it remains somewhat unclear what was expected of Arenas when he was dealt to the Magic on Dec. 18.

Early on, there was chatter that Arenas, who showed signs with Washington this season that he was gradually returning to the level that once made him one of the league’s biggest stars, would essentially “replace” Vince Carter as the go-to scorer in critical moments of a game.

While not many people expected him to be a starter at either of the guard positions (although some thought he could challenge Nelson), I think most observers assumed Arenas would transform into a legitimate threat as both an attacker and playmaker off the bench.

There were others, meanwhile, who understood that Gilbert was still recovering from his knee troubles that had plagued his career the last three seasons and that any production from him would be a bonus.

Considering his massive contract and popularity around the league, I think it is reasonable for fans to expect Arenas to generate a boost – particularly offensively.

The Magic will likely take it slow with Gil the rest of the regular season and hope his legs are fresh for the playoffs when Orlando will need to rely on him for instant offense.

As a result, it’s virtually impracticable to forecast Arenas’ performance the rest of the way. For both Gil and Magic fans, patience is the only solution right now.

Josh Cohen
QUESTION: How shocking is it that Carmelo Anthony is still a member of the Denver Nuggets just a few weeks before the trading deadline?

ANSWER: There seems to be so much caution, trepidation and ambiguity with all parties involved in the Carmelo Anthony trade talk.

The Nuggets, for one, appear to be very selective with what they want in return should they ultimately decide to finalize a Melo deal.

Assuming reports that Denver and New Jersey were on the verge of completing that three-team trade from a couple of weeks ago, it’s very apparent that the Nuggets desire a very specific combination of pieces in return for the four-time NBA All-Star. If that reported deal that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov opted to extricate, it would appear that the Nuggets prefer a young, but promising star, draft picks and expiring contracts.

But ultimately, there is no doubt that Denver hopes Anthony will decide to sign the three-year extension that has been on the table since the summer.

Some analysts, on one hand, believe the Nuggets should just hang on to Melo the rest of the season, hope they go on a run, advance deep into the playoffs and take their chances that would impress Anthony enough to stay.

Others, on the other hand, suggest that Denver needs to complete a deal sooner rather than later to relieve itself of all the stress and spotlight it’s been under since the start of the season.

Thus, I am not really shocked considering we are talking about one of the best players in the NBA. Melo is so valuable that Denver understandably is still weighing its options.

QUESTION: Do you think the NBA should do what MLB does, make the winning conference in the All-Star Game get home-court advantage in The Finals?

ANSWER: Yes, as long as coaches continue choosing players on winning teams rather than players who are having terrific seasons individually but for non-playoff teams.

Any time a professional sports league can upgrade its entertainment value and maximize it’s television revenue, it is always worth it to implement new guidelines.

If the All-Star Game was that consequential – and incontrovertibly home-court advantage in the NBA Finals is very substantial -- I believe more fans would tune in and be concentrated on the action.

Sure, the NBA All-Star Game is one of the most electrifying and invigorating events in all of sports because the game is designed for players to showcase dazzling dunks and other creative plays.

However, because the game’s outcome is generally inconsequential, players don’t normally give their all to help their conference win.

Especially if a handful of players on, for example, the Spurs and Lakers in the West or the Celtics, Heat and Magic in the East were playing for their respective conferences and the winning team allows their conference to earn home-court advantage in the championship round, players would really dig in and utilize strategy.

I, personally, like it when every game matters (even preseason). I just love competition and there to be something at stake for each game.

I realize there is always a risk of injury if players are competing at full speed and strength, but just like any other regular season game, this one has meaning and the best players should have the right to determine who gets the home court in The Finals.

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