Magic’s Howard: “I Like Being The Underdog”
Orlando Magic center and MVP candidate Dwight Howard says he feels his team never quite gets the respect it deserves, but relishes being able to stay under the radar despite their recent success.
"We’re always under the radar," Howard tells HOOPSWORLD. "Nobody’s ever talked about the Magic in any kind of way besides that we’re not a good team. So that’s all that we hear.
"But I like it. I like being the underdog, I like people not talking about us because, on one end, it keeps everybody on their heels and makes us really have to work to prove ourselves. If we were always being talked about and always in the limelight, some guys get complacent and we’ve got to stay humble if we want to be successful."
The Magic find themselves locked into the number four seed in the Eastern Conference with two games remaining on the schedule, but this season has had a different feel. A flurry of trades in mid-December saw the team dismiss mainstays Rashard Lewis, Marcin Gortat and Vince Carter while bringing in Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu.
Since the deals, this has been a team difficult to get a read on through 54 games together.
Orlando lost three straight right off the bat following the trade, then followed that up by winning nine games in a row and, most recently, over the past six contests, the Magic sport an infinitely mediocre .500 record. With just a few games left on the schedule before the postseason, guys are still trying to gel and the team is trying to develop better consistency on both ends of the floor.
"We still have things we want to accomplish," Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. "We want to get to 50-plus wins. But we don’t want to develop bad habits so we’ve got to go out there and still play the right way no matter who’s out there, just play the right way and try to win the game."
Despite being assured of home court in the first round of the playoffs, the Magic find themselves in the difficult situation of rest vs continuity going into the postseason. It’s hard for teams to find that happy medium between giving players some much needed rest at the end of the season, while at the same time getting into a groove come playoff time.
"You want to rest, but at the same time you want to stay in game shape," Howard said. "When you miss a couple of games it’s tough to get back in the rhythm of playing the game."
Howard says his team is still working to iron out the kinks with less than a week remaining until the start of postseason play.
"In the latter part of the season you just want to focus on things that you need to work on," Howard said. "For us, like I told the guys, we need to work on helping each other on defense… all the small things. There’s not a lot of major things we need to work on, just the little things here and there that will make us a lot better in the playoffs."
Last Wednesday’s 111-102 overtime win over the Charlotte Bobcats gave the Magic their 50th win this year, marking the fourth straight season in which they’ve won 50+ games. This puts in Orlando is some pretty exclusive company, as only the San Antonio Spurs (12 straight) and Dallas Mavericks (11) are currently riding longer streaks of 50+ win seasons.
"Well San Antonio and Dallas have [won 50 games per season] for long, long periods of time," Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "I’ve always said the thing I respect the most, whether it’s in players or teams, is sustained excellence and I think that’s where our organization wants to be.
"But we’re also locked into a spot and I think there are priorities probably bigger than that, too. So I have to sort of weigh that as a coach and not get too carried away with something that might look good, but in the end may not have a lot of meaning."
Even though this team has it’s share of question marks, Howard still believes the Magic have what it takes to be a championship contender.
"We have to focus on trying to win a championship," Howard said. "We’ve got the right team. We’ve got the right amount of talent to win. It’s just going to be on us to go out and play hard."
Howard’s Thoughts On Refs
During the second quarter of last Wednesday’s game against the Charlotte Bobcats, Dwight Howard was called for a 10 second violation at the free throw line for the second straight contest. Orlando’s center wasn’t happy about the call and rolled the ball out of bounds away from the official, resulting in Howard’s 18th technical this season.
While it could have been ruled simply a delay of game warning, Howard’s technical was upheld by the league and he was subsequently suspended for the Magic’s 102-99 loss to the Chicago Bulls Sunday afternoon.
"The 10-second violation has only been called on me three times this year: once way earlier in season, last night, then [against the Bobcats]," Howard said after the contest in Charlotte. "We’ve had the same refs all year, so these guys know what I do. But they never say anything about about until the last two games.
"I don’t know what it is, but it’s a lot of stuff that goes on. I just try to keep my head, and stay focused, but it’s tough."
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, never afraid to chastise the officials, had his own thoughts after the game.
"You know, it’s an interesting one because they just sort of pick and choose when they’re going to enforce it," Van Gundy said. "So obviously he needs to quicken it up at the line, because you never know when they’re going to decide to call it."
The good news for Orlando is that Howard’s T’s will reset to zero once the playoffs commence, and the Magic center would have to get T’d up a whopping seven times to get suspended.
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