Basketball Notes

Lacking in one respect

Playoff success has eluded Magic

By Marc J. Spears
March 22, 2009
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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 energy

While 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 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."


A comebacking attraction
While the Celtics' regular-season finale at Boston April 15 may not mean much to them, it could mean a lot to injured Wizards star Gilbert Arenas. Arenas has yet to play this season after having surgery on his left knee, but an NBA source said he is expected to be ready late in the season, perhaps for Washington's final five games. Arenas has been practicing on and off since Feb. 16. While it might seem questionable for him to return this season for an injury-plagued team that has one of the NBA's worst records, the reasoning is that it will help him gain confidence in the knee before the offseason. Considering Arenas's past rivalry with Celtics fans - he has called them bandwagon riders - it would be a treat to see him in action here once this season.

Duties may be clipped
Several NBA sources said the Clippers are quietly considering relieving coach/general manager Mike Dunleavy of his GM duties and bringing in someone else. Rumored candidates include former Heat GM Randy Pfund, a former Lakers coach, and ex-Lakers and Grizzlies GM and Hall of Famer Jerry West. If a new GM is brought in, Dunleavy would be expected to remain as coach in large part because he is under contract until 2011. The Clippers have a long list of talent - Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Al Thornton, Zach Randolph, Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman - but have been one of the NBA's most disappointing teams this season. As of Friday, the Clippers had lost 193 man-games to injuries and illness, while using 29 starting lineups this season. Dunleavy, who was hired in 2003, is the third-longest-tenured coach in the NBA behind Utah's Jerry Sloan and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich. Dunleavy and Davis, who signed a five-year, $65 million contract during the offseason, haven't always seen eye-to-eye this season.

Possibly a Dunn deal
Keep an eye on Rockets assistant T.R. Dunn as a candidate for the vacant coaching job at Alabama. Other potential candidates are rumored to be Missouri coach Mike Anderson, Virginia Commonwealth's Anthony Grant, Minnesota's Tubby Smith, and Clemson's Oliver Purnell, but Dunn is the only one with Alabama ties. Dunn, who played 14 years in the NBA with Denver, Portland, and Phoenix, averaged 11.2 points for the Crimson Tide from 1973-77 and was an assistant coach there when Cavaliers star guard Mo Williams was a freshman in 2001-02. "It would be a great opportunity for someone, but I don't talk about myself," Dunn said.

Monitoring the situation
Ex-Boston College star Sean Williams will be eligible to play for the Nets today against Cleveland after completing a two-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. Williams was arrested last Monday at a cellphone store in a mall in suburban Denver after reportedly getting into an argument with a clerk and throwing a computer monitor. Williams was also arrested last month at BC on a trespassing charge when he attended an Eagles game, but those charges were dropped. "Both sides are disappointed at this point," said Nets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe. "We'll wait for the results of the full investigation on this matter."

Seeds of doubt
Celtics coach Doc Rivers and Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy both said last week that they don't expect their teams to overtake Cleveland for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. "It will be very, very hard now to catch them for first," Van Gundy said. "I just can't see them losing enough games with the home games they have." Said Rivers, "We're not going to catch Cleveland." Cavaliers star LeBron James, however, wasn't buying it. "Of course it's [a tactic]," said James to reporters prior to last Thursday's game against Portland. "There are way too many games left to concede who's first seed, second seed, or third seed. But you can't say that, of course not."

Free throws
Remember former Celtics star forward Bailey Howell? The Hall of Famer, now 72, visited the team in the locker room after the win over Miami Wednesday. Howell played on championship teams in 1968 and 1969 and averaged 18 points for Boston from 1966-70 before being selected in the expansion draft by Buffalo . . . Temple coach Fran Dunphy recently told media that NBA scouts have told him Arizona State guard James Harden reminds them of Paul Pierce. "That's pretty lofty company," Dunphy said . . . The Celtics are among the nominees for Professional Sports Team of the Year in the 2009 Sports Business Awards, to be held in New York May 28. TD Banknorth Garden and Fenway Park have been nominated for Sports Facility of the Year.

Marc J. Spears can be reached at

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