Back To Basics
Tired of the drama, the Orlando Magic just want to have fun playing basketball.
by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford
The Orlando Magic have been distracted all season by a steady stream of speculation on Dwight Howard’s future with the organization. Will he walk in free agency this summer? If so, where will he go? Will he be traded at the deadline (the Orlando Sentinel actually has a counter to March 15 on its website called “Dwight Watch“)? If he is traded, will he commit to his new team long-term or be a rental and explore his options after the season? There’s also been some alleged in-fighting on the team with regard to Howard’s ability as a leader.
It all adds up to the NBA’s annual clusterf*ck within one of its organizations. And the Magic are center stage right now.
A lot of these stories are indeed media-driven. But Howard does shoulder much of the blame due to his much publicized and rapidly growing list of preferred destinations if he is to be traded, or making requests for the Magic to acquire guys like Steve Nash. Regardless, all of these things have impacted the Magic’s play on the court and caused some internal turmoil as well.
The team has been wildly inconsistent all year, and at times, has looked downright awful. Take the Magic’s recent game against the lowly Charlotte Bobcats as an example. Orlando lost by 16 points in a game where they actually had a 20-point lead. It should’ve been an easy win against an NBA bottom-feeder but instead it was an embarrassing loss and easily qualifies as the low-light of an already rollercoaster season.
But everyone knows that winning cures all and Orlando’s huge road win last night against one of the best teams in the NBA, the Chicago Bulls, provided a brief moment of levity to a season chock full of drama.
“There’s nothing like winning a basketball game,” said a jovial Jameer Nelson as he walked into the visitor’s locker room in the United Center after squeezing out a 99-94 victory. Even the Magic’s often on-edge head coach, Stan Van Gundy, was smiling as he made his way through the tunnel toward the change room.
The scene itself was a testament to the sheer joy that comes from winning, especially in the face of so much internal adversity. And there’s nothing more joyous than pulling out a victory in a game where not one, but two leads were blown. Instead of once again imploding, the team came together, showed their resolve and displayed a will to win that you know is there, but at times has been invisible this season.
“Our guys gave up the lead and then hung in there and fought real hard,” said Stan Van Gundy. “It was a great win to beat them; the best team in the League.”
Magic superstar (for the time being) Dwight Howard, echoed his coach’s sentiment. “It’s a great win for our team. We just have to continue to play this brand of basketball night-in and night-out and we’ll have a good chance of contending for a Championship at the end of the season,” Howard said.
While contending for a Championship might be a lofty and somewhat unrealistic goal for the Magic this year—especially if Howard is moved—what is realistic is Orlando can still have fun playing the game of basketball and wins like the one over the Bulls last night certainly help in that regard.
“It’s great,” said Nelson on Orlando’s victory. “We got that stops when we needed them, we got the rebounds when we needed them—when they counted the most—it was a total team effort. We played hard for 48 minutes tonight.”
After noticing one of the Magic’s equipment personnel looking at the basketball website HoopsHype, Nelson jokingly inquired as to which team he was being traded to this time. When asked if the game was still fun for him despite the incessant drama that continuously swirls around the team and the organization, he replied, “Oh yeah, it’s great. It’s great to be playing. [Distractions] are a part of the business and once you understand that, you can still have fun.”
Said Magic guard, JJ Redick, “It was like a Playoff game. It was a game with two of the better teams in the League right now. They’re great at home, their crowd is great; so it’s always fun to play in that environment on the road.”
And when asked if the internal turmoil has affected the overall morale of the team this year, Redick responded with, “If turmoil is still being a top-five team in the NBA, then sign me up for turmoil.”
The future and direction of the franchise is still up in the air, but for now, it looks as if the only thing these Magic are worried about is playing good basketball for the stretch run and letting the chips fall where they may, a very sound strategy, indeed.