Denton's Notebook: January 28, 2011

By John Denton
January 28, 2011

CHICAGO – The Chicago Bulls went on a spending spree this summer, signing power forward Carlos Boozer and small forward Kyle Korver to free-agent deals. But the biggest reason that they are back near the top of the Eastern Conference for the first time since Michael Jordan’s heyday is because of the dynamic growth of all-star point guard Derrick Rose.

And the Bulls might have Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard partly to thank for the quick elevation that their point guard has made.

Howard and Rose are close friends from their time taking trips to China together while serving as pitchmen for Adidas. Both were first overall picks in the NBA Draft – Howard in 2004 and Rose in 2008 – and the Magic’s center was quick to dole out advice to the blossoming point guard.

``We had a good talk the first time that we went to China about him being the leader for their team and I think he’s listened to me,’’ said Howard, a mentor at the age of 25 years old. ``I told him to lead by example. He’s a young guy and it’s always tough for a young guy to talk to his teammates and be a motivator. You lead by showing up in games and in practices and I’m proud of him.’’

But as much as Howard was helpful to Rose, he hasn’t hesitated to put the Bulls point guard on the floor when the two meet at the rim during games. Twice last season, Howard knocked Rose to the floor on drives to the hoop, knocking him out of the game with a lower back bruise and a sprained wrist. Howard said his friendly advice to Rose has also come with a stern warning.

``I always tell him, `Any time you need anything, you can come talk to me,’’’ Howard said. ``And I always tell him before we play, `Hey, if you come down the lane, jump off two feet so you can protect yourself.’ He’s listened. I’ve watched a lot of his games, and he’s not coming down the lane on one foot, which for a guard, if you get hit just a little bit by anybody, you’re going to fall. Now, he’s doing it off two (feet), and he doesn’t fall. He’s finishing. So, I can see the progress.’’

ARENAS KNEE: In northern cities such as Chicago where temperatures dipped into the teens and the Magic were greeted by snow Wednesday night and Thursday, point guard Gilbert Arenas tends to have more trouble with his surgically repaired left knee.

Arenas said recently that doctors have determined that there’s a good bit of arthritis in the joint, robbing him of some of his explosiveness and speed. But while the cold temperatures in Indianapolis and Chicago caused Arenas’ knee to ache, he’s started to play better and look more explosive of late. Magic GM Otis Smith said Arenas is dealing better with the sore knee now because he is being proactive about his treatment.

``In Washington, he wasn’t doing much at all with his rehab for the knee,’’ said Smith, who traded Rashard Lewis for Arenas on Dec. 18. ``But he’s working a lot more now on strengthening the muscles in the leg and around the knee. But if he stops working on it, it locks up on him.’’

Howard said that in time Magic fans will see a more explosive and dynamic Arenas as he works to get his knee stronger and healthier.

``He hasn’t had a great opportunity to do all the things that he wants to do, but it’ll come with time,’’ Howard said. ``I think once his knee gets a lot better, he’ll be better. He’s playing on one leg right now. Once he gets the other leg straight, I think we’ll see a new Gilbert.’’

SIZE MATTERS: Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said one of the overlooked aspects of trading for Arenas is that it gives Orlando a bigger point guard to use defensively against players such as Rose.

At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Arenas is significantly bigger than Magic starting point guard Jameer Nelson, who is 6-foot (maybe) and 190 pounds.

Van Gundy alternated Nelson and Arenas against Detroit recently because of the size of Pistons point guard Rodney Stuckey. Arenas’ playing time has steadily risen of late and he looked really good on Wednesday in Indianapolis by shooting over Pacers point guard Darren Collison.

``He’s a little bigger than Jameer and I really like it when guys complement each other. I think Gilbert and Jameer complement each other kind of like Ryan (Anderson) and Brandon (Bass) at (power forward),’’ Van Gundy said. ``Gil seems to be really getting his legs back. He’s quicker now and he’s attacking more.’’

ETC: Boozer is one of Howard’s best friends in the NBA from their days playing and practicing with Team USA during the 2008 Summer Olympics. Boozer was in Orlando each of the past two springs, watching the Magic compete in the playoffs while staying at Howard’s house. Howard said he and Boozer talked some about possibly playing together in Orlando last summer when Boozer was a free agent. Said Howard: ``We talked about it for a minute or two, but it couldn’t work out. He’s probably better off here in Chicago.’’ … The Magic have had seven players make a 3-pointer in a game twice this season – on Wednesday against Indiana and back on Dec. 23 versus San Antonio. Seven players with a 3-pointer in a game is the most in the NBA this season, done 10 times. In the past 24 years, the 2009 Magic and the 2006 Golden State Warriors have had the most players hit a 3-pointer in a game with nine. In that same stretch, the Magic have had at least eight players make a 3-pointer in a game four times, easily the most in the NBA. Said Van Gundy: ``Of the guys we have been playing six of the eight can shoot (the 3-pointer). And with (Quentin Richardson) and Chris (Duhon), eight of our 12 guys can shoot it. … Richardson, a Chicago native who is still bumming about his Bears losing to the Green Bay Packers, needed 26 tickets to accommodate friends and family on Friday. Duhon, a former Bull, needed 20 tickets, while Howard got 15 tickets. … The Magic return to Amway Center Sunday night to face the Cleveland Cavaliers. Orlando is then back out on the road again Monday, playing the Grizzlies in Memphis.

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