Denton's Notebook: March 14, 2011

By John Denton
March 14, 2011

LOS ANGELES – When Orlando Magic superstar center Dwight Howard was approached by a Los Angeles-based media member prior to Monday night’s game against the Lakers, Howard opened the questioning himself before any questions could be asked to him.

``Are you going to ask me about free agency?’’ Howard said in mock anger before breaking into laughter.

But in all seriousness, Howard made one thing abundantly clear about his pending free agency, which can begin after next season: He doesn’t plan to allow the process to play out publicly out of respect to those in Orlando and with the Magic.

Howard can sign a contract extension this summer after there’s labor peace, but that’s not likely to happen. Instead, he’ll most likely opt to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2011-12 season. But he said the only thing on his mind is trying to win a championship this season and not where he’s potentially headed in the future.

``When people are always asking, `Where’s he going? Where’s he going?’ It makes me look bad on a couple of areas. It’s disrespectful to the fans of Orlando and to my teammates because it might make them feel like I’m selling out on them,’’ Howard said.

Asked what he had learned from the high-drama free agency/trade decisions of superstar players LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, Howard just shook his head. But he did offer this: ``I know I’ve got to be my own person and make my own decision. I’ve learned that you can’t live your life for others. Those people aren’t going to live for you, so you can be trying to live for them.’’

JUMP-STARTING JAMEER: Magic coach Stan Van Gundy admits that there’s a good reason behind running more plays for Jameer Nelson. He sees the veteran point guard’s play and energy as a barometer for how well the Magic will play. That was certainly the case early on Monday as Nelson had three rebounds and five assists to help the Magic jump to a 21-12 lead.

Van Gundy is opening games with more pick-and-roll plays for the 6-foot point guard in an effort to jump-start his aggression. And late in games, Van Gundy said the decision has been to ``ride Jameer down the stretch’’ in pick-and-roll plays so that the point guard can either look to score or get the ball to others in scoring position. ``I’ve noticed that Stan is running more pick-and-roll plays and I’ve tried to attack out of it and try to get it going early in the game,’’ Nelson said. ``I’d say we’re doing a really good job of mixing up what we’re doing offensively so teams can’t get into a rhythm against us. But with me it’s all about staying in attack mode.’’

Nelson had one of his worst games of the season on March 7 against Portland (1 of 7 shooting, five turnovers), but he’s since responded with 26 points (against Sacramento), 24 points (versus Golden State) and 14 points (against Phoenix). During those last three games, he’s made 25 of 45 shots while averaging 21.3 points per game.

2009 vs. 2011: Van Gundy was asked before the game if his Magic were more potent now than they were in 2009 when they made it to the NBA Finals opposite the Lakers. Van Gundy said while this team has yet to have its meddle tested in the playoffs, he does feel like this Magic team has as much offensive firepower as any team he’s coached in Orlando.

``Potentially this team would be more powerful because we’ve got Jameer back, (Jason Richardson) is more of a scorer than Courtney (Lee) and while our (power forwards) might not put up the numbers that Rashard (Lewis) did, they’re still pretty good,’’ Van Gundy said. ``And we’ve got Gil (Arenas) off the bench and (J.J.) Redick is a better player now than he was two years ago. We can score the ball better, but our problem is throwing the ball to the other team (with turnovers). It’s hard to score when you’re turning the ball over.’’

ETC: Van Gundy started Ryan Anderson in place of Brandon Bass because he liked the matchup better against Lakers’ power forward Pau Gasol. Right on cue, Anderson took advantage of the start and hit two 3-pointers in the first quarter, while holding Gasol to two points early on. … Howard’s run of three straight rebounding titles could very well be coming to an end what with the way Kevin Love (15.7 rpg.) has played this season. But even if Howard’s run ends, it’s not like the Magic superstar center’s rebounding has fallen off this season. He entered Monday averaging 14 rebounds a game, more than the 13.8 and 13.2 he averaged each of the past two seasons while leading the league. He averaged a career-best 14.2 in 2007-08. … Redick missed his third consecutive game Monday night with a lower abdominal strain. Redick did get in a workout on Monday prior to the game and hopes to play Wednesday night. … The Magic close their nine-day, five-game road trip on Wednesday night in Milwaukee against the Bucks. Said Van Gundy: ``That’s an interesting way to finish a West Coast trip. We won’t get into (Milwaukee) until 5 in the morning (on Tuesday). But the schedule is the schedule and you can’t do anything about it.’’

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