Denton: Wednesday's Contest Like a Playoff Game

By John Denton
April 24, 2012

ORLANDO – Officially, the NBA playoffs don’t begin until Saturday. But for the Orlando Magic, they might as well start Wednesday night even though they are playing a team that is historically bad.

The Magic (36-28) need to win on Wednesday night to clinch the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and set up a first-round matchup against the Indiana Pacers. Lose on Wednesday, and the Magic could have to win in Thursday’s finale to avoid falling to seventh and facing the Miami Heat.

It’s really important to us that we go into the playoffs strong and with a winning mentality,’’ Magic power forward Ryan Anderson said. ``Winning and locking up that sixth seed would great for us and that’s what we’re trying to do.’’

The Charlotte Bobcats are at the other end of the spectrum and have a completely different motivation for winning Wednesday and spoiling the Magic’s home finale at the Amway Center. At 7-57, the Bobcats have a .109 winning percentage, which is a tenth of a point worse that the mark set by the 1972-72 Philadelphia 76ers. That Sixers team went 9-73 for a .110 winning percentage.

If the Bobcats – losers of 21 straight games – drop their final two games, they will finish with a .106 win percentage. If they win one of two, they will eclipse the 72-73 Sixers and have a winning percentage of .121.

The caveat, of course, is that the Bobcats have already beaten the Magic once this season, and that was when Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu were healthy. Neither will play on Wednesday and so won’t Corey Maggette, who exploded for a big game in Charlotte’s defeat of Orlando on March 6. The Bobcats haven’t won a game in more than a month (March 17 versus Toronto was the last victory) and the Magic want to keep it that way.

Said Anderson: ``We can’t take this game lightly. We’re one of those seven (teams that the Bobcats have beaten). We need a lot of focus and to go play hard.’’

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said the team doesn’t expect to see Howard during the playoffs as it was decided he would remain in Los Angeles for the next three weeks following surgery for a herniated disc. Howard will continue to get rehabilitation in California rather than flying cross-country between Orlando and the West Coast.

``I don’t think he’ll be back here for about three weeks,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Originally, his plan was, because he wanted to be around, is to go back and forth, but those are long flights back and forth, not particularly good for your back to begin with. Plus, (it’s) costing you a whole lot of time. You guys (in the media) know; you’ve done it. You’re basically wasting a day when you could be rehabbing. I think the agreement on all sides was that he’d be better off just staying out there and getting his rehab with the group that did his surgery and the whole thing.’’

As for Turkoglu, he shot for almost 30 minutes after practice and remains on schedule to rejoin the team this weekend for the playoffs. Turkoglu has been fitted for a protective mask to cover the three fractures that he suffered just below his right eye when he was hit by a Carmelo Anthony elbow. How effective Turkoglu can be after missing three weeks of basketball remains to be seen.

Despite not having Howard and Turkoglu of late, the Magic have played with a renewed spirit and pushed Boston and Utah to the brink before ultimately losing in the fourth quarter.

Without Howard inside to protect the rim, defense has been a huge issue for the undersized and undermanned Magic. Orlando has allowed at least 100 points in seven of the last 11 games and opponents have shot 50 percent or better from the floor seven times in the past eight games.

``It’s really tough because we’ve brought great energy to games and we’ve played hard, but we were losing,’’ reserve forward Earl Clark said. ``But nobody really cares about effort after the game. It’s about winning and losing and we have to find a way to get some stops and get some wins.’’

Especially against the hapless, hopeless Bobcats. The playoffs are still four days away, but considering everything that’s at stake here this is almost a must-win for a Magic team that needs a feel-good victory in the worst way.

``The last time we went to Charlotte we lost to those guys and that was a really bad loss for us,’’ said Clark, who is expected to be back tonight after missing the past two games with a swollen knee. ``We don’t want that to happen again and we really need to win this game.’’

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at

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