Denton: Plenty of Intrigue as Magic Visit Nets

By John Denton
February 21, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. – A long-distance sounding board for one another throughout the NBA’s marathon regular season, Orlando’s Dwight Howard and New Jersey’s Deron Williams talked Monday morning and the Magic superstar center issued a challenge for the Nets all-star point guard.

Knowing that Williams’ New Jersey Nets were about to face the New York Knicks and point guard sensation Jeremy Lin later that night, Howard gave his close friend some stern words and a pep talk.

``I just told him to go out there and show me something,’’ Howard said. ``I guess he did.’’

Did he ever? Williams torched Lin and the Knicks for 38 points and a career-best eight 3-pointers on Wednesday night to cool some of the ``Linsanity’’ talk with a 100-92 victory. Undoubtedly, the pep talk from Howard helped Williams have one of the best games of his career.

While the weekly and sometimes daily conversations between Howard and Williams might concern some Magic fans because of their desire to play together – possibly with the Nets – Howard insists that the two are just friends. They became confidants in 2008 while playing for Team USA in the Summer Olympics and have talked basketball, life and other issues regularly.

But the two friends will be enemies Wednesday night when the Magic (21-12) face the Nets (10-24) at 7:30 p.m. It will be the first time that Howard has played in New Jersey since issuing an early-season trade request that included the Nets as one of his preferred destinations.

Earlier in the season, Nets’ fans chanted Howard’s name in hopes he could rescue their franchise. Even the Nets’ website is treating Howard’s appearance on Wednesday night with special circumstances, showing pictures of Williams and Howard together under a bold headline that says, ``Catch Dwight’s only 2012 appearance in New Jersey.’’

Howard said he is putting no special significance on the game. He has purposely avoided talking about trades of late in an attempt to keep the focus on his Magic squad.

The Magic have resisted the urge to trade Howard and it has kept the franchise among the contenders in the East. Orlando has won eight of its last 11 games, losing only to Miami on Sunday and twice in overtime. Orlando pulled out a clutch 93-90 victory Monday in Milwaukee by rallying from five points down in the fourth quarter. Howard was central in that effort with 28 points and 16 rebounds, and he sounds very much like he plans to be in Orlando all season.

``It was very tough for us, but we stayed with it, stayed together and got a good win,’’ Howard said. ``Now, we just have to keep it going and close out the first half on a good note. And then the second half we need to make a great playoff push.’’

Meanwhile, the Nets meanwhile are floundering and headed nowhere fast. Even after Wednesday’s win against Lin and the Knicks, the Nets have lost eight of their last 10 games. Young center Brook Lopez went down early in the season with an ankle injury, leaving Williams alone as New Jersey’s only go-to player for much of the season.

Lopez will be back in the starting lineup on Wednesday night to face Howard, but his return assuredly won’t be enough for the Nets to salvage another season headed for the lottery. Despite making the NBA All-Star Game for a third time, Williams told reporters after Monday’s game that this season has been his most difficult to deal with in the NBA because of the Nets’ woes.

Howard has been there to support his friend with their talks. But he was in no mood Monday night to talk about the upcoming game against the Nets and the sideshow that could come with fans chanting his name.

``We just won a big game (in Milwaukee), and that’s all that matters right now,’’ Howard said.

Orlando’s Ryan Anderson, who hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 18 seconds remaining Monday night, said his experience of playing a season in New Jersey tells him that Nets’ fans will be clamoring for Howard. But Magic coach Stan Van Gundy just hopes that his superstar center and the Magic can block out the distractions that the Howard hoopla is sure to bring.

``As far as that (off-the-court) stuff goes, you sort of decide what you are going to let distract you and not distract you,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Will there be a lot of media attention on the game? Yeah, but do players have to let all of that distract them? No, they don’t and it’s up to them to not let that happen.’

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

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.





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