Denton: East Showdown Set for Friday

By John Denton
January 5, 2012

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic opened the regular-season with a difficult road game at Western Conference powerhouse Oklahoma City and then were rewarded with six consecutive games against teams that failed to reach the playoffs last season.

Up next is an opponent that will more closely resemble the Thunder in the opener than the six rebuilding squads the Magic have faced over the past two weeks.

In the Chicago Bulls, the Magic will be hosting one of the premier teams in the Eastern Conference and one that some are picking to win a NBA title in June. In some ways, the showdown between the Magic (5-2) and the Bulls (6-1) at the Amway Center could be an early-season measuring-stick game to determine the balance of power in the Eastern Conference.

``While the travel schedule and the regularity of games has been difficult, not playing as many playoff teams as some of the other teams has helped us,’’ Magic guard J.J. Redick said. ``It starts tomorrow with Chicago and that level of competition is just going to get better. Chicago is one of the favorites to win the East and get to the Finals, so always you look forward to games like this. They were an elite team last year and they played us extremely tough here and we had trouble scoring. So we’ll have to play with a lot of energy on both ends of the floor.’’

Friday’s nationally televised game against the Bulls is actually the start of one of the toughest stretches of the season for the Magic. Over the next 23 days, the Magic will play 10 games against eight teams that made the playoffs last season (Boston and Indiana twice). They Magic also head to the West Coast for three games and have their lone stretch of three games in three days in the next three weeks.

``We knew all along that looking at the schedule that this would be one of our toughest stretches,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``We have the stretch of three games in three nights, we’re traveling a lot and we’re not catching many teams on back-to-backs. That’s the case with everybody this season, but this is our part of the schedule where we’re getting the short end of the stick. But for us it has to be about not looking ahead or looking and the standings and just trying to get better.’’

The Magic got better at the expense of the woeful Washington Wizards on Wednesday night, rolling to an easy, breezy 103-85 victory. Superstar center Dwight Howard smashed the Wizards inside to the tune of 28 points, 20 rebounds and seven dunks.

Howard, who finished second in the MVP voting last season to Chicago’s Derrick Rose, downplayed the matchup against the Bulls as some early-season litmus test. He said the season is still far too young to put much stock in either a loss or win in January.

``It’s just another game for us to get better. Each game we have to try to get better and it doesn’t matter who the opponent is,’’ Howard said. ``We have to run and get easy buckets against these guys and do a good job on D-Rose. We can’t look ahead. We have to get this game tomorrow and then we’ll go from there. We can’t look ahead, especially how the schedule is.’’

The 2012 MVP had his way with the Magic last season, averaging 25 points and 6.3 assists in four games against Orlando. Rose scored 39 points in Orlando last April by making 13 of 17 shots. That nationally televised game went a long way in Rose winning the league’s MVP award.

With Chicago’s big, rugged frontline of Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik, the Magic will likely need some solid play from Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis off the bench behind Howard and Ryan Anderson. Davis has struggled so far with the Magic after being involved in a sign-and-trade deal that got him a four-year, $26 million contract. And his frustrations have exacerbated somewhat by the exploits of Anderson in Orlando and Brandon Bass in Boston. Anderson, the Magic’s starter at power forward ahead of Davis, leads the NBA in 3-pointers made (25) and leads the team in scoring (19.7 ppg.) Bass, who was traded to Boston for Davis and Von Wafer, is averaging career highs in points (14 ppg.), rebounds (6.6 rpg.) and minutes (27.7) for the Celtics.

Davis, who missed the first three days of training camp because of a FIBA contract mixup with Wafer, said he’s going through an adjustment period getting used to the Magic’s style of play.

``I’m basically just getting used to my new surroundings and it takes time. I was with (the Boston Celtics) for four years and won a championship with that team and it’s a different culture here,’’ said Davis, who is averaging 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds in 22.3 minutes a game. ``I just have to work the kinks out. I’m just going to keep my composure and do what I need to do and perform the way I know that I can perform. I put a lot of pressure on myself and what you see out there is me wanting to do more.

But I can’t let it not flow.’’

Van Gundy told Davis to worry less about shooting the ball and doing more of the things that made him a solid player in his first four seasons in the NBA. Van Gundy wants Davis focusing on rebounding, setting screens and diving on the floor for loose balls. And, of course, offering up some tough post defense against Boozer on Friday night will help as well.

Davis sees it as just a matter of time before his energy and hard-nosed style of play takes off in Orlando.

``Most definitely there’s a temptation to want to do well. You see Brandon Bass and you see Ryan Anderson who is doing great and you want to contribute because you know you can,’’ he said. ``But sometimes putting pressure on yourself isn’t good and you end up doing the opposite. I just have to slow down and let the game come to me and make sure that I play my game how I know how to play it.

``It’ll be great to see the real me,’’ Davis continued. ``I know what I have to do and it’s just about going out there, taking my time and doing it. It’s not that that I’m confused; I’m the kid at the candy store wanting to do more, more, more. I just have to slow down and embrace everything and mentally get right.’’

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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