Denton: Up Next a Back-to-Back-to-Back

By John Denton
January 15, 2012

NEW YORK – The last time Orlando Magic standouts Dwight Howard and J.J. Redick played three games in as many days it was what feels like a lifetime ago for them.

Back then, Howard was a high school phenom on the AAU circuit where teams often play three games in a day repeatedly over a weekend.

Redick proudly boasts that he played in four Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship games, meaning each year of college his Duke Blue Devils were required to play three games in a three-day stretch.

But now that they are facing a similarly arduous stretch of three-in-three in the NBA, Howard and Redick are asking for some help from a devine power to avoid the rash of injuries that have already hit some NBA players in this condensed season.

``It’s going to be tough, but I have to figure out a way to get through it. My body is already hurting now, so this stretch is going to be really tough,’’ said Howard, who is still nursing a sprained wrist and some bruises from Thursday’s foul-fest in which he set the all-time NBA record for free throws attempted in a game with 39.

``Guys are dropping and there are a lot of injuries now. It's tough to take care of your body when we have so many games back-to-back,’’ Howard continued. ``I just thank God every day that I haven't had any serious injuries. I continue to pray that He will continue to keep His angels around me so I won’t have any injuries. But it is tough, especially the way guys are going down. I just want to stay healthy.’’

The Magic (8-3) got healthy on their recent roadtrip, winning all three games. But now they face a stretch of games -- in New York on Monday afternoon, at home against Charlotte on Tuesday and at home against San Antonio on Wednesday – that will test their fiber as an elite team. The Magic franchise hasn’t played games on three straight days since the 1998 lockout season. No one currently on the roster was in the league at that time, so it's a challenge unfamiliar to players at the NBA level.

``Your body just is not used to playing that many minutes consecutively, but I don't think we ever had a problem (in the tournament) with it in college,’’ Redick remembered. ``This is going to be really difficult, but we’ll find a way to fight through it.’’

Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy started making adjustments to the team’s schedule well in advance to prepare for the rigors ahead. Though his team was still fatigued from the West Coast trip, Van Gundy put the Magic through a tough, two-hour session on Saturday. He did that so that the players would only have to go through light shooting drills on Sunday and then rest up for the three consecutive games. Van Gundy said he'll be more wary of fatigue and look to use his reserves more if needed, but his ultimate goal will be to win that night once games start.

``You have to watch your guys out on the court. But during the games nothing will change because I'm always trying to win that game," said Van Gundy, whose Magic enter Monday riding a three-game winning streak. "As we get into Tuesday and Wednesday if we're seeing fatigue then we'll use more people. We ended the (Golden State) game (Thursday) night with Von Wafer closing the game and making a huge shot. I think we have a lot of guys capable of stepping up. We’ll use whoever we have to use."

Van Gundy hopes to be able to use shooting guard Jason Richardson, who went down in the second half against the Warriors with a sprained left knee. An X-ray and MRI were negative, and Richardson hopes the swelling and stiffness will have subsided enough to play on Monday against the Knicks.

Richardson, an 11-year NBA veteran, said the knee injury is the first of his professional career. He wonders if his injury is a product of a season in which training camp was sliced in half, the exhibition season was reduced from eight games to two and regular-season games are coming fast and furious. Just last week, Atlanta’s Al Horford and Golden State’s Kwame Brown both suffered torn pectoral muscles -- injuries uncommon to the NBA, but an occurrence now with the hurried schedule.

``We’re going to need everybody. Everybody will have to play and be ready in this stretch,’’ Richardson said. ``They are doing everything they can to get the games in. ... I don’t think it's the best thing for the product. The games kind of go down and there are injuries. You pray that the injuries go down, but it’s tough playing this many games in a row.’’ That’s a sentiment shared by Howard, who has been an ironman of sorts through the years for the Magic. He has largely avoided injuries throughout his seven-plus NBA seasons and he hopes he can keep that streak intact as he embarks on his first-ever stretch of three consecutive games.

Through the first three weeks of the season, teams playing a third game in as many nights went 6-0. The Chicago Bulls were the first team to win the trio of consecutive games, going 3-0 last week even as superstar point guard Derrick Rose went down with a minor toe injury. Howard, who knows he’ll most likely have to log major minutes, hopes to avoid the injury big that has hit so many others.

``It’s tough to (reduce his minutes) because we don’t have a lot of size and I’ll probably still have to play big minutes,’’ Howard said. ``All I can do is keep praying and thanking God that I don’t have any serious injuries.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com

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