Denton's Notebook: January 7, 2011

By John Denton
January 7, 2011

ORLANDO – Another foot injury robbed NBA fans one of the game’s great big man battles Friday night when perpetually injured Houston Rockets center Yao Ming couldn’t play against Orlando Magic superstar Dwight Howard.

Yao’s career is seemingly in jeopardy after re-injuring his foot on Nov. 10 after playing just five games this season. The 7-foot-6, 310-pound center missed all of the 2009-10 season because of foot and ankle injuries and missed 91 games from 2005-09 because of repeated problems.

Howard, who has never missed significant time because of injury in his seven NBA seasons, said he feels bad for Yao. The two have faced each other through the years in the NBA, All-Star Games and the Olympics and Howard said he is hoping that Yao can somehow get healthy again and salvage his career.

``I just want him to get healthy. I think a lot of people have pressured him to get back as soon as possible,’’ Howard said. ``Once you are away from the game for a while, you always try to rush and get back and I think that’s what he did. But he’s 7-foot5 and he weighs a lot and it takes a toll on your ankles, knees and feet. Just like anybody else who plays basketball, you know you have to protect your knees, feet and ankles. I just hope he gets better because I love playing against him and he’s a great person. So I just hope that he gets better.’’

BACK-TO-BACK BLUES: The Magic have one of their most difficult back-to-back sets of games Friday and Saturday, playing Friday in Orlando against Houston and then Saturday in Dallas against the Mavericks.

Making matters worse is the fact that Friday night’s game started at 8 p.m. instead of the usual 7 p.m. because of ESPN’s national broadcast. That means the Magic likely won’t get in their hotel rooms in Dallas until 5 a.m. on Saturday morning. And they must play a Dallas game that was off on Friday night.

The Magic have been a better-than-average team on back-to-backs this season, going 11-7 on the first and second nights. The Magic headed into Friday at 6-3 on the first night of the back-to-backs, but just 5-4 in the second game when playing on consecutive nights.

``Can we feel it? Yes, because we don’t get a lot of rest because we’re up early the next day doing film and going over the other team’s plays,’’ Howard said. ``We feel the fatigue, but this is our job and we have to be ready to fight through it.’’

Howard said there were a couple of perks to playing a back-to-back. By playing in Dallas on Saturday, the Magic won’t be practicing that day and teams usually get the day off following a back-to-back set of games.

``I’d rather have a back-to-back instead of coming in here and spending four hours (in practice) with (head coach) Stan (Van Gundy),’’ Howard said with a laugh. ``Does it take a toll on our bodies? Yes, but we’re kind of used to it and we just have to play through the fatigue.’’

LIGHTENING THE MOOD: Several members of the Magic have given new Magic point guard Gilbert Arenas credit for lightening the mood around the team with his playful attitude and colorful trash talk in practice.

Arenas has helped to create a new nickname -- ``The bench mob’’ – for the Magic’s reserve players, and that group does a mock ceremony before games where they act as if they are being introduced to the fans. While Arenas is more than happy to play the jokester, he said that his light-hearted approach can usually be taken one of two ways.

``I just came in here and I’m being myself. When we’re winning it’s all good, but when we’re losing people call that a distraction,’’ Arenas said. ``When it’s time to play – after practice and a little bit before – that’s when you play. But during practice, when I talk trash to Dwight and tell him (Ryan) Anderson is going to beat him up, it’s just to get him mad. That’s my job to make practices more intense. It’s really just me being happy and goofy.’’

ETC: Arenas, who turned 29 years old on Thursday, said there was a downside to his birthday: His driver’s license expired and he’s unable to drive for the time being. But he said it beat what transpired last year on Jan. 6 – he was suspended for 50 games by the NBA league office for bringing a firearm into the locker room in Washington. … Van Gundy feels that by limiting the Magic’s rotation to just eight players it has helped to quickly build some continuity following the team’s two trades with Washington and Phoenix. Said Van Gundy: ``It’s helped the guys play well, play for longer stretches and get themselves into a better rhythm.’’ … Van Gundy’s brother, Jeff, worked the game as a color analyst for ESPN. Jeff’s last coaching job in the NBA was with the Houston Rockets. … The Magic entered Friday as the hottest team in the NBA, having won seven games in a row. But even though the Magic have won 59 games each of the past two seasons, long winning streaks have not been common for the franchise. The Magic have never won more than eight straight games under Van Gundy. And eight games in a row are the most the franchise has won in a row with Howard at center since 2004. They did that in 2009-10 and 2005-06. … Orlando’s next five games are on the road. The Magic don’t play at Amway Center again until Jan. 19 against the Philadelphia 76ers.

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