One of the biggest stories this year focused on a trade that never happened. At the beginning of the year, it seemed almost inevitable that center Dwight Howard would be traded before the trade deadline. Howard had expressed his desire to leave Orlando, and it seemed like the Magic might prefer to trade him instead of losing him to free agency at the end of the season. What ensued, however, was a circus. Howard went up and down and back and forth on his desire to leave Orlando, some days expressing frustration and others claiming that Orlando was his home. For better or worse, however, the trade deadline passed and Howard remained on the team. I was so happy when the trade deadline passed and we still had Dwight Howard, that I went online to buy Magic tickets for their next home game.
The better part of that is the potential for the team this year. Howard is playing as his dominant self, averaging 21.0 points and 14.8 rebounds. He has led them to a 29-18 record, good for second place in the Southeast Division behind Miami, and third in the conference. Howard has had some unexpected help from forward Ryan Anderson, who is averaging 15.6 and 7.7 rebounds per game.
This team has had some significant victories this season. Recently they posted big victories over the conference-leading Bulls and Heat. They beat the Bulls 99-94 March 8th in Chicago, and the Heat 104-98 at home. Thus, at times they have shown their capability of playing with the best teams in the East.
However, as fans have come to be familiar with over the past few years, these Dwight Howard-led Magic also have a tendency to be inconsistent. Just when it seems they are playing well together, they have a game that seems to underscore their weaknesses. In short, when they’re bad, they’re really bad.
This is evident in the games on March 18th and 19th, when they lost back-to-back games to the Heat and Bulls. The loss to the Bulls was one of the more embarrassing losses in recent years. They fell 85-59 on their home court. They turned the ball over 19 times and only shot 35.3 percent. Howard didn’t struggle, scoring 18 and pulling down 12 boards. Every other player on the roster, however, did struggle.
Jason Richardson only scored two, Jameer Nelson was plagued by turnovers, and Ryan Anderson had no answer for Carlos Boozer. The kicker is that Derrick Rose wasn’t even on the floor for Chicago. Inexplicably, he was in the lineup when the Magic beat the Bulls in Chicago.
A loss like this leaves a lot of questions in the minds of fans. Does Stan Van Gundy have control over his team? If so, why couldn’t he motivate them to play better fundamental basketball? Does this team have the capability to win a championship before Howard leaves?