Denton's Notebook: December 29, 2011

By John Denton
December 29, 2011

ORLANDO – Orlando Magic fans transfixed by the daily Dwight Howard drama of where he will play basketball in the future can make of this whatever they will: Howard and New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams dined together in suburban Orlando on Wednesday night.

And despite a suggestion from Williams that they go to dinner in disguise so not to draw the ire of Magic fans, Howard said the two didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.

And here’s the kicker: The two all-stars ate for free compliments of the restaurant where they dined.

The friendship between Howard and Williams dates back to the 2008 Summer Olympics when the two helped Team USA win a gold medal. That friendship is also believed to be a major reason why Howard included the Nets on his list of teams he would like to be traded to.

Earlier this month, Howard informed the Magic that he would like a trade and his agent – who also represents Williams – was given permission to negotiate potential deals with the Nets, Mavericks and Lakers. The Magic have remained steadfast in their desire to retain Howard, promising to give him more input on personnel matters in the future while also hoping to continue building the team around him.

Howard said he and Williams have made it a habit over the past three NBA seasons to dine together the night before games when they are in the same town. He said the two of them have a close bond that extends beyond basketball.

``Since he’s been in the league we go eat dinner and just kick it. We’ve been friends since the Olympics, so we go out to eat and have a bite,’’ Howard said. ``(Williams) wanted to be silly and joke about (going to dinner in disguise), but I told him, `This isn’t the time; let’s just go eat and then have a good game against each other.’’’

Howard was peppered with questions about the Nets from several New Jersey-based reporters, but he declined to answer many of the queries about what appeals to him about the franchise. After all, in 35 seasons in new Jersey, the Nets have had a losing record 22 times and lost at least 50 games 12 times. But the Nets are moving to a new arena in Brooklyn next season and the prospect of playing with Williams might be appealing to Orlando’s five-time all-star.

``It’s been tough because everybody wants me to do this and do that, go here and go there,’’ Howard said. ``I try to get away from it and play my video games. But when I get online, people are telling me, `Go here or go there.’ It’s a great feeling and I’m happy that we’re back to playing basketball. It’s been tough, but I’m trying to stay positive and play hard every night.’’

TREATY WITH THE REFS: through two preseason games and two regular-season games before Thursday, neither Magic coach Stan Van Gundy nor Howard had drawn the ire of the officials. That’s significant because the two of them were among the leaders in technical fouls for coaches and players last season.

Van Gundy said he and Howard made pact this season to be less focused on the officiating and keep their attention on the task at hand. Van Gundy is also trying to be less demonstrative and negative along the sidelines this season and he is gradually turning some of the leadership of the team over to captains, Jameer Nelson and Howard.

Howard was whistled for 18 technical fouls last season, which resulted in him being suspended from two regular-season games. Van Gundy was fined by the league office for being critical of officials, but the two have already made great strides this season.

``Dwight’s definitely backed off and I’ve backed off too,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Whether it’s because of the whole trade situation or not, we all just need to be better with our focus. We’ve done a good job of that so far. We’re just trying to not get so wrapped up in talking to the officials.’’

TURK TIME: During his first stint with the Magic, the fourth quarter was usually a time for the team to get the ball into Hedo Turkoglu’s hands and let him make plays. He won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award in 2008 after finishing fourth in the league in fourth-quarter scoring. And in 2009, his play late in games was a big reason why the Magic won the Eastern Conference crown and reached the NBA Finals.

Turkoglu rediscovered his fourth quarter magic Monday night in Orlando’s defeat of Houston. He scored 13 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, by hitting five of six shots and three 3-pointers. He also played the role of playmaker, twice dishing to J.J. Redick for game-sealing 3-pointers.

``He’s that guy for us because he can create his own shot or create a shot for someone else,’’ Magic forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis said. ``When we need a bucket we go to him and we have to get him involved in more screen-and-rolls. My job is to screen and get him open.’’

Van Gundy said the Magic have more options now in Jason Richardson, Nelson and Howard, and they don’t have to rely on Turkoglu extensively in the fourth quarter of games. Van Gundy said the primary concern as of now is getting Turkoglu to play well on more of a consistent basis.

``The problem is he’s up and down and we need more consistency out of him,’’ Van Gundy said. ``There are times when he’s very good. But other times when he doesn’t seem to have the energy, he gets passive. We just need to get him to stay aggressive and be consistent.’’

ETC: Davis, who left Boston for Orlando in order to get a bigger role on the team, said he considers himself the Magic’s sixth option offensively right now. He isn’t too happy about coming off the bench, but it’s a role that he’s been forced into because he is basically Howard’s backup at center. Said Davis: ``Right now, Dwight is our first option. Then it’s Turk and Jameer and J-Rich. I’d say I’m about the sixth option because I’m not starting.’’ … Veteran referee Dick Bavetta was a part of the crew officiating Thursday’s game. He is beginning his 37th season as a NBA referee. Van Gundy said watching college games during the NBA lockout gave him a new appreciation for NBA officials. Said Van Gundy: ``We get on those guys and give them a hard time, but when you get a chance to watch college games it really gives you an idea that (NBA officials) are the best at what they do.’’ … The magic will play their fourth game in five nights on Friday when they are in Charlotte to face the Bobcats. The magic will then be off on Saturday before playing Toronto and Detroit on Sunday and Monday. Howard said the schedule could be the biggest obstacle on a given night instead of the opponent. ``In my seven years in the league it’s never been like this,’’ Howard said. ``I was just looking at the schedule (Wednesday) night and I was wondering how we’re ever going to get much rest in with the way the schedule is. We just have to fight through it and get a lot of rest.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com

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