NBA Saturday: Dwight All About Orlando
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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Dwight Loving Orlando: If Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard still has his heart set on playing somewhere else in the next year, you wouldn’t be able to tell right now. Orlando is currently playing host to All-Star Weekend 2012 and Howard has been front and center, serving as an ambassador for the city and franchise.
“This is my city,” Howard said to HOOPSWORLD. “We have a great weekend planned. I’ve been working on three hours of sleep. We’re going to have fun. I can’t wait.
“It means a lot to have it at the Amway Center, have the world in Orlando for a weekend. It’s a celebration. This is a great time for all of us. That’s the focus of the weekend, for the fans to have fun. Just being here for me, not having to go anywhere else is great. I’m looking forward to the All-Star game, the dunk contest. I think Jeremy Evans is going to win, put my prediction in early for you guys. Ryan Anderson for the three-point shootout, I’ve been teaching him some things. We’ve been working on our three ball the last few games. He’s ready. The NBA better watch out.”
Anderson isn’t the only teammate that Howard made sure to endorse; Howard actually had extremely positive things to say about his entire team.
“I think we’re playing great basketball,” Howard said. “Were third in East, fifth in the NBA. We haven’t hit our peak yet, that says a lot about our team and the growth of the team despite everything going on around we’ve been able to stay focus. We’re only going to get better.
“I think we have an opportunity just like every other team in the NBA to win a championship. We just have to stay together and stay focused, go to work in the second half of the season.”
Although talking as if he has no plans to leave the Magic, Dwight was unable to avoid questions about his preseason trade demand that Magic general manager Otis Smith once again reiterated is still in place.
“We’re not going to talk about it right now,” Howard said firmly. “The situation right now is All-Star Weekend. That’s the only thing that matters right now. This is the moment. We’re going to have fun and enjoy ourselves. All that stuff can go on after All-Star Weekend. Right now, my focus is on having a great time and being a great host to all these great players you see around us. This is (New York Knicks guard) Jeremy Lin’s first All-Star Weekend. I’m going to make sure to get with him and have some fun.
“I think (Lin’s story) is one of the best. I met Jeremy a couple years ago. Just to see him having an opportunity that is something that a lot of guys in the NBA would like. He got a chance and took advantage of it. It’s great. I’m very happy for him.”
The emergence of Lin has helped ease some of the attention off of Dwight and his uncertain future. In all reality, though, this weekend could serve as an unofficial farewell to the city and Magic franchise. However, Dwight isn’t approaching it as such.
“I’m just going to go out there and be myself, have fun,” Dwight said. “We want to win the game, the East, we need to win. Just have fun. That’s what everybody is here for. That’s our job is to have fun and entertain the fans. The focus is on All-Star Weekend. I think it is great for our city. It’s going to be great for our city, for all the small businesses to have a chance to really flourish during this time.
“The last time we had hype like this was during the Finals.”
As unlikely as it may have seemed prior to this week, maybe there is another Finals appearance in the future for Howard and the Magic. Plenty of players in the past have demanded trades, but none of them voiced the love, faith and belief that Dwight has in the city and team.
Rookie Ride not Smooth for Irving: Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving is averaging 18 points, three rebounds and five assists midway through his rookie season. He’s restored hope for the Cavaliers’ fan base just one year after the loss of All-Star forward LeBron James. He’s also the heavy favorite to walk away with the Rookie of the Year award. Make no mistake about it, though, this season has been trying for the rook.
“It’s been hard at times,” Irving said to HOOPSWORLD. “Everyone goes through ups and downs during their rookie season. You have to get used to the travel and all that. It’s a learning process. You turn into a professional and your whole entire life changes. Everywhere you go you have to be aware that all eyes are on you.”
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott’s role in helping Irving be so successful in his first year. He’s far from the typical rookie due to the heavy expectations that he came in with. He easily could have been overwhelmed. Scott, who has coached some of the NBA’s best point guards in Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Kidd and Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul along with playing with Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson during his playing days, has provided the guidance and knowledge to greatly aide Irving.
“He’s a player coach,” Irving said. “Best player coach in the league I believe. He offers great advice. I just go out every single night and try to do my best.”
Playing for Coach Scott has been ideal for Irving because at 19 years old he was definitely in need of a mentor. He was basically handed the keys to the Cavaliers franchise, which is a huge step up for a guy who only played 11 games of college basketball prior being selected number one in the 2011 NBA Draft.
“I think I’m reminded everyday by the media,” Irving said. “I read a 19-year-old rookie and it’s crazy to think two years ago I was in high school. It was a good experience. A lot has changed.”
Before Irving gets back to his stellar rookie campaign, on task this weekend is the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge. It’s the first time the league has gone to a pickup game format where players are chosen by coaches one at a time rather than the regular rookie vs. sophomore game.
“We took lots of half court and behind the basket shots,” Irving said. “I’m sweating as you can see. We all want to showcase our talent the best we can. It’s a race that is going on between a few of us rookies. All of us are out here, so we’re going to showcase our talent.”
Williams Thinking Playoffs: 2004 was the last year the Minnesota Timberwolves made it to the playoffs. They advanced all the way to the conference finals that year. It was impossible to predict at that time that their franchise-best season would be followed up by a seven-year-and-counting playoff drought, but that is what they’ve endured since.
At 17-17 so far, the Timberwolves are out of the Western Conference cellar that has been their home the last few years. They’re only a game out of eighth place and rookie forward Derrick Williams is looking at being a part of the postseason as bar that defines a successful season.
“I think if we don’t make the playoffs it’s a down year for us,” Williams told HOOPSWORLD. That’s our goal and we want to accomplish that.”
From an individual standpoint, Williams is taking some time to adjust to playing at basketball’s highest level. He was the best player in college basketball last year, but is stuck behind an All-Star in Kevin Love and only playing 18 minutes a night. He’s kept a positive attitude throughout, though.
“It’s been good,” Williams said. “There are a lot of ups and downs but at the same time if you don’t have a lot of ups and downs then you’re not learning so I’m just learning each and every day.
“Just how many games there have been in such a short amount of time (is tough). In college we play two games a week or so. Here we’re playing three games in three nights, sometimes four in six nights so you never know what to expect. I knew we would travel a lot, a lot of games but at the same time I wouldn’t say that necessarily.”
While the Timberwolves are one of the youngest teams in the league, there is enough veteran leadership on the team to give a helping hand to Williams when needed.
“Kevin Love and Michael Beasley, those two the most,” Beasley said. “Since I play both spots they’re trying to help me out each and every way possible. K-Love, just his work ethic and Beasley telling me the ins and outs of the league and what I have to do to be successful.”
Experienced head coach Rick Adelman, in his first year leading the Timberwolves, has not taken it easy on Williams or given him anything despite being the second overall pick in the draft. He’s making Williams earn everything, and that’s fine with him.
“He’s a great guy,” Williams said. “His system works since he was with the Sacramento Kings and what not so all you’ve got to do is just follow what he says and so far we’re doing it pretty well.”
As much as Williams likes Coach Adelman, Beasley and Love, nobody makes his face light up like fellow rookie teammate Ricky Rubio.
“Oh, Ricky man,” Williams said. “Ricky, he’s great. His IQ is great. He knows what you’re going to do before you know it and that’s the good thing about him, that’s he been playing pro since he was fourteen so he’s not really a rookie. He knows what it takes to be good and so far he’s doing
“He makes me a lot better. He wants to put the ball in your hands. All you’ve got to do is sit there and wait for the ball because he’s going to find you. The overseas game and over here is a lot different. Overseas you can play zone, you can hit the ball off the rim, all the rules are different. Ricky’s transition (has been good) just because of our getting up and down the floor more, pick-and-roll and that’s what he does.”
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