Denton's Dish: Magic vs. Heat (3/13/12)
By John Denton
March 13, 2012
ORLANDO – On a night with emotions mixed, trade talks swirling and doubts as to whether or not Dwight Howard was playing his final home game for the Orlando Magic, the superstar center once again made jaws drop.
Howard registered the 40th 20-point, 20-rebound game of his career in the Magic’s thrilling 104-98 overtime defeat of the rival Miami Heat. He then stunningly said he’s asked the only organization he’s ever played with to not trade him and allow him to finish the season in Orlando as he and the Magic chase a championship.
It was a shocking admission from Howard, who publicly requested a trade before the season and stuck to those wishes over the last 3 ½ months. But on Tuesday he somewhat reversed course.
``I’ve been telling (Magic management) for the past two or three weeks now that I want to stay and finish the season,’’ said Howard, after scoring 24 points and grabbing 25 boards. ``I told them I feel we have a great opportunity to win and I told them that I want to be here and I want to bring a championship here. I told them they’ve got to give me that chance.
``They didn’t trade me at the beginning of the season and I told them I’d go out and play as hard as I could every night to put our team in a position to win. We’re third in the East and playing great basketball. I don’t want to see that slip away,’’ Howard continued. ``We have to take a chance and I think we have a great chance to surprise a lot of people winning.’’
The sticking point, however, is that not only will Howard not commit to the Magic (28-15) long term, he has yet to show any willingness to renounce the Early Termination Option in his contract that will allow him to become an unrestricted free agent in July. Howard said the Magic must be willing to take a chance on him staying in Orlando, and he said he hopes to still be with the Magic following Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
``We’ve been talking for a while. I told them that I want to finish this season out and give our team and our fans some hope for the future,’’ Howard said. ``I feel they have to roll their dice. It might be tough, but I feel like we have a great opportunity. They’ve got to roll it. I’ve talked to Rich (DeVos), Dan DeVos and talked to Alex (Martins) and Otis (Smith) and I want to finish the season out. I think we can hit our peak the right time and make a run.’’
That feeling has to be buoyed by a stretch in which the Magic have beaten Chicago, Indiana and Miami in the past three games. Howard got some big-time playmaking help from his teammate of the past eight seasons, Jameer Nelson, in Tuesday’s win. Nelson scored 25 points and converted two dazzling layups in overtime as the Magic topped the Heat (31-10) for a second time in three tries this season. Nelson was proud of how his team blocked out the trade drama and responded with a gusty effort.
``We’re professionals and our job is to go play basketball and that’s why we’re all here,’’ said Nelson, who made 10 of 16 shots and four of seven 3-pointers. ``We can’t do anything about what’s going on with management or worry about anything other than playing the game. Coach puts out a game plan and we execute it. Anything else we can’t control it.’’
Orlando got 17 points from J.J. Redick and 16 points from Ryan Anderson. The Magic avoided a shot at the end of regulation by Dwyane Wade and then harassed the Heat into two of 11 shooting in overtime.
``We’re playing well right now,’’ Redick said. ``To beat those teams we have to be playing well.’’
Wade had 28 points, Chris Bosh added 23 and LeBron James had 19 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. James missed all five of his shots in overtime and repeatedly passed the ball at the end of regulation instead of attempting to take the game over.
The Magic were playing severely short-handed and that could be the case again Wednesday night when they play in San Antonio. Starting shooting guard shooting guard Jason Richardson missed his second straight game with a sprained ankle, while reserves Earl Clark (sore foot) and Von Wafer (sore back) were also unavailable.
Here is a look back at the key moments from Tuesday’s game at the Amway Center:
- Howard notched his eighth 20/20 game of the season and the 40th 20/20 effort of his career. He made nine of 13 shots, but slumped at the free throw line with a six of 18 performance.
Howard was unstoppable in the early going of the game and looked as if he was on his way to a monster night. He made his first six shots and had 12 points and seven rebounds by the time that the game was 7 minutes old. Three of those seven rebounds came on the offensive glass and he converted each one into baskets. Howard did as he pleased against Miami’s Joel Anthony, getting three dunks, a layup, a follow basket and two hooks shots.
``We’re playing some pretty good basketball and we have to keep it up,’’ Howard said. ``We haven’t allowed anything to get between us. The locker room is great and we step on the court we’re together. It’s been showing with our team. We’ve played some tough teams and we beat them all.’’
- Magic coach Stan Van Gundy called Nelson’s performance, ``his best game of the year.’’ Nelson has a long history of playing well against the heat, the team that passed him up in the 2004 NBA Draft to select Dorrell Wright.
Nelson made the Heat pay when they sunk inside on Howard by confidently stepping into jump shots. And because he was in attack mode throughout, he regularly got back Mario Chalmers off the dribble.
But Nelson’s finest move of the night was his last one. He split a double team at the top of the key, drove down the lane and then blindly flipped in a shot while trying to avoid Miami’s Chris Bosh. The shot put Orlando up 102-96 in overtime and all but sealed the victory.
``All of my hops allowed me to get that shot off,’’ Nelson joked.
- Up 36-29 midway through the second quarter, the Magic seemed to be playing well and well on their way to another solid performance against the Heat.
But inexplicably things fell apart for the Magic and they went from up six to trailing by 14 points in a matter of minutes. A 22-2 run by the Heat – nine of which came from James and eight more from James Jones – turned the game upside down.
The Magic were their own worst enemy during the game-turning run. Not only did they miss nine of 11 shots, but they turned the ball over six times during the 20-point swing. Orlando had 14 first-half turnovers, leading to 21 points for Miami.
``I thought our bounce-back from a disastrous end to the second quarter was great,’’ Van Gundy said. ``(Miami) had 21 fastbreak points before halftime. They had two fastbreak points in the second half. We turned it over way too much, but it was a hard-fought game. Both teams played hard and well. It was a battle and I’m proud of our guys.’’
- Howard and James shared a funny moment in the second quarter at the scorer’s table as the two of them were about to check into the game. Howard playfully stuck out his chin, mocking James’ protruding jaw line. James rolled his eyes and smiled as the two went their opposite ways.
- Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis seemed to speak for a weary Magic team on Tuesday morning when he said the team needed some resolution from the suffocating trade rumors surrounding the team.
``It’s real tough, but something’s gonna have to happen. Whatever happens, happens and at the end of the day we have to do what we have to do,’’ Davis said. ``I’m glad that’s not my job right now. My job is to set screens. That’s about it right now. My job is not to determine if we trade Dwight or get new guys. That’s my job, so I don’t have to worry about that. I wanted to buy a house, but I don’t know yet if I can buy one.’’
- After missing two free throws with 2:58 in a tied game, Howard dropped to two of 10 from the stripe. That promoted Miami coach Erik Spoelstra to use the Hack-A-Howard strategy, fouling Howard intentionally away from the ball to put the Magic big man back on the free throw line.
Naturally, Howard stroked both free throws with ease, hitting nothing but net each time to tie the game at 89-all.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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