Denton: Injuries Piling Up For Magic

By John Denton
March 31, 2011


ORLANDO – After limping back home following a competitive, but disappointing two-game roadtrip in which they ended one game with six available bodies and another with the team ``running on fumes,’’ according to Gilbert Arenas, the Orlando Magic faced one pertinent question heading down the stretch.

Rest or rust?

On the one hand, Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy would like to use every available day between now and the start of the playoffs in two weeks to clean up some turnover and execution gaffes with practices. Van Gundy’s case is a solid one after the way his Magic kicked the ball away 21 times on Monday in a loss to New York and struggled offensively Wednesday in a defeat in Atlanta. However, he decided against practice on Thursday, instead giving his team a day off to rest for Friday’s game at the Amway Center against the Charlotte Bobcats.

But on the other hand, the Magic (47-28) seem to be a tired and battered team at this point. With J.J. Redick (abdominal strain), Chris Duhon (thumb sprain) and Quentin Richardson (back spasms) out because of injuries and starters forced to play nearly 40 minutes a night, the short-handed Magic are looking for any opportunity that they can get to get rest before the playoffs.

``We’ve practiced enough, had enough shootarounds and we need our rest now going down the stretch,’’ Magic star center Dwight Howard said late Wednesday after Orlando’s 85-82 loss to the Hawks. ``A lot of guys are out right now and it’s tough. We need to get guys healthy before the playoffs. When you have a short roster, the goal has to be to get rest and get everybody healthy. You just can’t force the issue when you’re not healthy.’’

The Magic seem to be locked into the Eastern Conference’s No. 4 seed with seven games to play and are headed with a showdown against the Hawks. Atlanta won three of four meetings in the regular season, but three of those games came with the Magic either missing major pieces or adjusting just days after their two blockbuster trades.

Atlanta is a vastly different team than the one the Magic smashed by a combined 101 points last spring in the most lopsided four-game playoff sweep in NBA history. With Jason Collins at center to harass Howard, the Hawks are bigger and better defensively. In four games against Atlanta this season, Orlando made just 38.9 percent of its shots (120 of 308), only 22.6 percent of its 3-pointers (19 of 84) while averaging just 82.5 points per game.

Almost to a man, the Magic suggested that things will be different the next time they see the Hawks when they are hopefully whole.

``We’ll come back prepared and ready to go in the playoffs and hopefully we’ll get a few guys back who are banged up right now,’’ Magic power forward Ryan Anderson said. ``The playoffs are a different season and we know that. The regular season is important too, but come playoff time we’ll be better at guarding people and knowing the scouting reports. But right now it’s just been tough on us because guys are having to play the whole games. When you’re playing just eight guys a game, that’s not something that’s easy to do.’’

Magic shooting guard Jason Richardson, who struggled through a one of seven shooting night on Wednesday, said some players ``are struggling with knee issues right now,’’ because of the strain of playing additional minutes. Richardson said at a time when many teams are limiting the minutes of their starters to rest up for the playoffs, the Magic’s starters minutes have been on the rise due to injuries. In Monday’s overtime loss in New York, four of the Magic’s five starters had to play at least 41 minutes.

Richardson pointed to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics as examples of teams resting players down the stretch for the betterment of a playoff run. Both seemed to be skidding down the stretch last season, but had strong closing kicks in the playoffs and reached the NBA Finals.

``Now is usually a time when you want to rest your starters and main guys but we don’t have that luxury because of the injuries. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up right now,’’ Richardson said. ``Dwight, Turk, me and some other guys we’ve been playing 40 minutes pretty much every night and it’s tough. But we’ll be ready come playoff time.’’

Orlando expects to get Quentin Richardson back by Friday’s game and Duhon possibly back by Sunday, but there are concerns about whether or not Redick will return by the start of the postseason. He re-aggravated the lower abdominal strain last week, delaying his return. A gym rat who usually works out daily whether the Magic play or not, Redick’s down time away from the team has worn on him.

``It’s tough for him because he wants to be back and he wants to play,’’ said Anderson, Redick’s closest friend on the Magic. ``But he knows right now if he tweaks the injury again it will just prolong (his return time). He’s ready to get back.’’

Getting Arenas and his troublesome left knee all the way back this season seems highly questionable now. Sitting with a large icepack strapped to his knee and talking of a Magic team ``running on fumes,’’ Arenas spoke Wednesday night of having little to no trust in a knee that has been surgically repaired three times. At one point during games last Friday and Monday in New York, Arenas missed 20 of 21 shots – including several layup attempts – and he attempted just two 3-pointers in Wednesday’s defeat.

Arenas, who said he is incapable of practicing more than 90 minutes without pain resurfacing in his knee, sounded resigned to the fact that his knee likely won’t be sound again this season.

``Really, I don’t jump anymore because I’m scared to jump off my left leg,’’ Arenas said. ``When I go in for a layup I don’t explode for whatever reason. I don’t know why I’m so nervous because they tell me the knee is fine. I guess it’s a mental thing.

``Growing up, you were always taught to play through injuries. But when I see how my knee used to be, I work hard now to get back and I’m actually overworking it. But really, it’s all I know,’’ Arenas continued. ``If I work out six hours a day on the knee then I wouldn’t be able to play for the next two months. I don’t know, it’s tough.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.