Magic Realize They Must Do Better Job Protecting Home Court

by John Denton

ORLANDO – For the most part, there’s no place like home in the NBA – especially when it comes to racking up victories.

With the mind, the Orlando Magic are well aware that they need to become a much better home team if they have designs on having a special season.

Coming into Friday, the Eastern Conference’s top eight teams are a combined 34-10 at home and three of those squads – Toronto, Milwaukee and Philadelphia – are a combined 18-0 in their home arenas. The same sort of statistics hold true in the Western Conference where the top eight teams are 36-10 at home and Denver and Memphis are still unbeaten in their familiar surroundings.

One of the reasons that Orlando (4-7) has been unable to build much momentum or consistency this season has been its struggles at the Amway Center. The Magic are just 2-5 at home thus far and are coming off a home defeat that ended their modest winning streak at two.

Orlando could be poised to get back on track tonight at home by facing Dwight Howard and a Washington Wizards team that has struggled all season (2-8) and has been mostly ineffective on the road (1-5). The Magic are wrapping up a three-game home stand and coach Steve Clifford knows the importance of his team finding its footing at home considering the difficult road ahead as the season progresses.

``The big thing now is we’ve got to win home games,’’ said Clifford, whose Magic will hit the road on Saturday for games in New York and Washington, D.C. ``We’re digging ourselves a hole at home. In this league, it’s hard to win on the road, so you’ve got to do well at home.’’

Orlando’s starting five played well enough to win on Wednesday, building leads of 15 and 11 points against the Detroit Pistons. However, Orlando’s usually reliable group of reserves struggled to shoot the ball and with turnovers. All five reserves had a double-digit negative plus/minus ratio in the game, paving the way for the 103-96 loss to the Pistons.

Following that performance, Clifford was critical of his reserves approach and focus. That message was reinforced a day later when veteran guard Terrence Ross organized a pre-practice meeting with the reserves to discuss what is expected of the group. Rookie Mo Bamba said the group cleared the air among themselves and they know exactly what Clifford expects from the group.

``One thing Coach Cliff does really well is communicate with us,’’ Bamba said. ``he doesn’t hold back anything. That’s something that, hearing from our vets, that we’ve needed here. To have a coach do that and like that in my first year in, that will make a difference as my career goes on.’’

Washington has struggled to find much traction at all this season despite having an all-star backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. The Wizards opened the season with two home losses and then dropped four of five on a West Coast trip to set the tone.

Dwight Howard, a Magic standout from 2004-12, now plays for the Wizards – the sixth organization that he’s been a part of since forcing his way out of Orlando. He has played in just three games this season after suffering gluteal soreness in training camp. Averaging just 12.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 0.67 blocks a game, Howard said he is still rounding into shape.

Following the Wizards shoot-around session on Friday, Howard discussed his feelings about returning to Orlando.

``As far as basketball, we always talk about the team that we had here, how we were committed to winning, committed to making the city better and how we were trying to change the perception of the Orlando Magic,’’ Howard said. ``When teams came here, the focus was Disney (World) and Universal Studios and having fun. We wanted to change that.

``It’s just going back to your hometown as a kid. I mean I grew up here, so I think a lot of people saw me grow up here,’’ he continued. ``… A lot times people send me pictures of me at a restaurant or a hotel (in Orlando) that somebody took and it’s cool and an awesome feeling. In my house in Atlanta, I have pictures of a lot of people from (Orlando) who made a big difference in my life. I just keep that with me every day and I look at it every day when I’m home of my time here in Orlando.’’

Back in June, when the Magic picked Bamba with the No. 6 pick in the June NBA Draft, one of the first people to contact him was Howard. The now 32-year-old center said he wanted to give the 20-year-old Bamba tips about the Magic and Orlando because they are still near and dear to his heart.

``You always want the team that you played for to be successful and especially the players that come through here and you know,’’ Howard said of helping Bamba. ``For me, I’d never say anything bad about this team or this city, especially this city. More so the city than the team. I’ll always be grateful for this (Magic) organization, but this city we’ve been through tough times together and I really got a chance to learn Orlando and this whole area by being out in the community and doing different events and the barbeques that we used to have to get to know the fans.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.