Denton: Key Players Struggling For Magic

By John Denton
February 7, 2011

ORLANDO – Delighted to be off losing teams and vaulted into the chase for a championship, Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas initially played well in the afterglow of the Orlando Magic’s blockbuster trades back on Dec. 18.

But in the weeks since, that glow has faded, the NBA’s dog days have hit and the two centerpiece players in the Magic’s midseason makeover have struggled mightily.

That was never more evident than Sunday in Boston when Turkoglu and Arenas endured forgettable afternoons in Orlando’s 91-80 loss to the Celtics. Turkoglu missed nine of his 10 shots, while Arenas didn’t make any of his seven shots and went scoreless for the first time in his career since 2004.

And when the frustrating Boston loss was over, Arenas not only racked his brain as to when the last time he played without scoring, but as to why all of his work in practice isn’t translating over to games.

``I’m still upbeat about it, but it’s starting to get frustrating at times how I’m making every shot that I take when I’m working out and then I come out here in games and miss the easiest shots in the world,’’ Arenas said.

Arenas said his rhythm is so shot now that he’s looking forward to the NBA All-Star Game break later this month so that he can do more individual work on his game. But there’s still plenty of work to do before the break, beginning with the Magic’s home game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night at Amway Center.

Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson are the Magic’s captains and backbones offensively and defensively, but they know that they need consistent support from Turkoglu and Arenas – Orlando’s best playmakers for others – to become serious contenders. But their inconsistent play and played a major role in the Magic going just 3-5 over the last eight games.

Since the December trades, Turkoglu has averaged 11 points, 5.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds, but he hasn’t shot the ball well of late. Arenas’ shooting percentages dipped to 35.5 percent overall and 28.4 percent from 3-point range after making just four of 19 shots on the Magic’s two-game trip to Washington and Boston.

Upon his initial return, Turkolgu looked as if he had never left the Magic for a season-and-a-half. He posted the third triple-double of his career and later shredded the Dallas Mavericks with a career-best 17 assists.

But since then, the player the Magic the usually trust in the fourth quarter to run pick-and-rolls and find the open shooter has looked unsure of himself. A balky back and sore knee have slowed the small forward somewhat, but also look to have stripped him of his confidence. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, the man who put the ball in Turkoglu’s hands and helped him become an elite player, said he doesn’t recognize the struggling player that Turkoglu has resembled of late.

``I don’t like the way that he’s playing at all. I don’t like his decision-making or his energy at all,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Usually with Turk there will be two or three plays that are a little crazy, but for the most part I think his decisions are good. He might not make shots, but at least he’s making the right decisions as to what to do. But I’ve never been through a stretch with him where the majority of the plays that he’s making I’m sort of saying, `What the (heck) is he doing?’ He comes off a pick and has a lane to the basket and he’s shooting the step-back jumper.

``I don’t know the answer with him right now and I’m going to have to talk to him,’’ Van Gundy continued. ``Maybe we’re going to have to do different stuff for him. But it’s not all on him.’’

As for Arenas, a variety of issues could be holding back his on-court production. His surgically repaired left knee gives him trouble in colder climates, and apparently too in day games, Arenas said following Monday’s 2:30 tipoff. Arenas is also dealing with a messy paternity suit with a long-time girlfriend who has purposely dragged the dispute into the media.

He’s dealt with those issues while also trying to make the adjustment as a point guard on a new team. Learning how to play with a dominant big man such as Howard has admittedly been an adjustment. And Arenas said that his opportunities to freelance with the ball have been fewer because of the structure in the Magic’s offense.

``People are like, `He’s struggling,’ but I expected to struggle because I had to learn how everybody here plays,’’ Arenas said. ``I can’t just go down and play my kind of basketball and attack. That’s not what we do here.’’

Arenas, like Turkoglu, feels that it’s just a matter of time until he becomes more comfortable and begins clicking at an all-star level with his new teammates. Arenas knows that the Magic have the next 10 weeks of the regular season to prepare for the playoffs. After all, this season is more about getting hot at the right time and trying to win a championship instead of notching a high seed with regular-season victories.

``I’m going to shoot it, and if I see somebody I’ll pass it,’’ Arenas said. ``That’s how I used to be. When you’re a scorer you are thinking about scoring and everything comes easy. It’s just weird. I catch myself not being aggressive, and when I do turn it on, I don’t have my rhythm. … When I’m alone shooting, I feel like I can be beaten. But in games, I’m so worried about missing shots and that’s what happens. So I have to get myself right somehow.’’

John Denton writes for E-mail John at Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at