Denton: Magic Searching For Consistent Effort

By John Denton
March 16, 2011

During the feel-good moments of Monday night’s first half in Los Angeles, Orlando Magic superstar center Dwight Howard took advantage of a break in the action to chat up legendary actor and famed Lakers’ fan Jack Nicholson.

One who is always quick to impersonate voices from movies, Howard did his impression of Nicholson’s ``Joker’’ from the Batman movies. According to Howard, the off-the-cuff casting call got rave reviews, as did Howard’s jokes about Nicholson’s sunglasses.

``We were just talking about his special 3-D games that they made for him so that he could see the game, live and in 3-D,’’ Howard playfully recalled later in the night to take his mind off the Magic’s second-half meltdown in a 97-84 loss to the Lakers. ``I asked him if he could see into the future with those glasses.’’

All jokes aside, Howard has been attempting to look into the future quite a bit these days what with the playoffs beginning in almost a month. At 42-26 with 14 regular-season games left before the postseason free-for-all begins, Howard is attempting to project positives where some only see darkness. His Magic are most likely locked into the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, and unlike some Howard doesn’t see that as being the end of the world.

``I don’t think we’re in that bad of a position now,’’ said Howard, whose Magic wrap up a nine-day, five-game roadtrip in Milwaukee on Wednesday night. ``I think people look at us and think we’re not playing great basketball. But we’re fourth in the East, that’s not too bad and we just have to keep playing. People out there say we’re not good enough to compete for a title, but I don’t agree with that.’’

If the playoffs started today, the Magic would open in the first round against an Atlanta team that it has dominated much of the past three seasons and swept last spring in the most lopsided postseason series in history. Win that, and the Magic could be in position to face Chicago, a blossoming team that has yet to prove itself in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the East’s other two top teams, Boston and Miami, could be forced to beat up on one another in the other side of the playoff bracket.

So maybe Howard has a point when he says that he likes where the Magic are positioned heading down the home stretch of the regular season. He has repeatedly pointed to the Green Bay Packers, a team that struggled at times during the regular season, but got hot at the right time and ultimately rolled to a Super Bowl victory.

Howard said it’s up to his team to start putting together some sustained efforts now to make sure that it hits the playoffs at full steam.

``We’re fine and we’ve just got to believe,’’ Howard said. ``Despite what people are saying around us and out there on ESPN, we’re the ones who have to go out there and play. (The media) don’t play the game, but if we go out there and play the right way nobody will be able to stop us.’’

The Magic mostly stopped themselves Monday night against the Lakers, turning the ball over 18 times and giving up too many offensive rebounds. Howard had nine turnovers with a big chunk of them coming on offensive foul calls and three-second violations. Teammate Jameer Nelson had four turnovers – three of which were questionable offensive foul calls.

The fact that Orlando played so well in the first half against the two-time champion Lakers – they led by five points at intermission and got fast starts from several players – gave the Magic hope that they match some of the best teams in the league. The Magic have certainly proven that at times, beating the Lakers, Spurs, Heat, Celtics and Mavericks throughout the regular season. But inconsistency – even during Monday’s hold-and-cold game – has been a problem.

``If those guys are the (defending) champs, I feel like we aren’t that far away at all from being on that level,’’ Magic forward Ryan Anderson said.

Howard made a point after Monday night to point out that the Magic got away from their game plan of going inside to him to set up easy baskets. That’s been a trend of late with the Magic falling into the style of others. Consistency – from game-to-game and even during games – is what the Magic are battling now to get themselves right before the playoffs start in a month, Howard said.

``We have to find ways be more consistent,’’ he said. ``The first half (against the Lakers) we had the lead because we ran, got easy buckets and we played inside-out. But we didn’t play the same way in the second half, especially the third quarter. We took a lot of quick shots. We have to be consistent the whole game if we want to get to where we want to be.’’

John Denton writes for E-mail John at Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at