Lacking in one respect
Playoff success has eluded Magic
Dwight Howard still has a chance to lead the Magic to the best record in the NBA. The All-Star center leads the league in rebounds and blocks per game and is one of the top scorers. He is nicknamed "Superman" and is one of the league's most engaging personalities.
But when it comes to Most Valuable Player talk, you hear the names LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade, not Howard. While Howard might be viewed by some as a superhero in shorts and sneakers, until the Magic do super things with him in the postseason, he will continue to fall short of the elite.
"There's no pressure," said Howard, who went into last night averaging 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game. "There is no such thing as pressure. There is no pressure. Basketball is fun. I don't take anything as pressure. I just have fun. You win some, you lose some. You just keep playing."
The lack of respect has slid off Superman's cape and onto the Magic, too.
Right now, the NBA's top teams are the Celtics, Lakers, Cavaliers, Spurs, and Magic. Orlando is the only one in that stellar group that has not been to the NBA Finals in the past two seasons. In fact, the Magic won just one game in the second round last season and were swept in the first round the season before that.
The expectation outside the Magic Kingdom is that Orlando's season will end in the second round against the Celtics. The Celtics are 2-1 against Orlando this season, the loss coming by 7 points (86-79) in a game Boston played without Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. With Rondo and Garnett likely to be in uniform this time, the Celtics visit Orlando Wednesday in a big game for both teams.
Orlando also could get Detroit in the first round of the playoffs. The up-and-down Pistons knocked the Magic out of the playoffs each of the past two years. Orlando also lost a potential statement game at Cleveland last week, too.
"We're just trying to get home-court advantage and to be hot during the end of the regular season going into the playoffs," Howard said. "We just want to get hot at the right time and get everything going."
The Magic have other upper-echelon players in All-Star Rashard Lewis (who is struggling of late and has knee issues) and sharpshooting forward Hedo Turkoglu. While point guard Rafer Alston, a newcomer, is solid, the loss of All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson definitely hurt the Magic. But give Orlando credit for remaining a contender in the East without him.
"Everybody is finally coming together with the fact that Jameer is going to be out for the season," Howard said. "We're getting it together and hopefully we will have everything working by the time the playoffs come.
"It was tough. I was hurt. But you got to move forward and other guys have to play better."
After Orlando's close win over Boston, coach Stan Van Gundy went on and on about how his team is the Rodney Dangerfield of the NBA and how its toughness is questioned.
"We're sort of talked about like we are the middle-of-the-road, .500 team," Van Gundy said.
Middle-of-the-road team? Orlando is far from that. But unless Howard and the Magic can get to the East finals, they will continue to be "sort of talked about."
"We're a very young team," Howard said. "Every team that I've been on, we've never gotten any respect that I think we deserved. But it's just on us to go out there and keep playing."
Ainge channeling his energyWhile Celtics scouts have been at early-round NCAA Tournament games, team president Danny Ainge did his scouting by watching several screens from his office at the team's training facility in Waltham.
"I got five TVs set up," said Ainge. "I'm watching every game."
But next weekend, Ainge is expected to be watching in person, too, at TD Banknorth Garden for the East Regional games.
Ainge said the Celtics are also scouting the National Invitation Tournament, the College Basketball Invitational, and the Collegeinsider.com Postseason Tournament.
"I'm watching all the games, even the lesser tournaments, not just the NIT, but the other tournaments," Ainge said. "I'm watching all those games."
The Timberwolves have Boston's first-round pick this year from the Kevin Garnett trade, so with only a low second-rounder, the Celtics will be looking for a diamond in the rough.
According to an NBA scout, here are three prospects you might not have heard of but should keep an eye on:
1. Florida State senior point guard Toney Douglas: "He's a guy that can press into the first round because he can defend and score. Not a lot of guys can do that. He has risen his team to a high level by himself."
2. Maryland junior guard Greivis Vasquez: "People have been turned off by his antics. He's high-strung, pounds his chest. But he's 6-5 and can play point guard. A streaky shooter. When things are bad, he can get anything done. He doesn't have NBA athleticism and quickness, but he gets things done."
3. Southern Cal freshman forward Demar DeRozan: "He's playing up to all the hype surrounding him. If he continues to play like he did in the Pac-10 tournament, he'll be real good."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org