Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dwight Approaches Another Historic Orlando Franchise Mark

Before I get to that, I'd like to continue to rag on Shaquille O'Neal for looking like a buffoon again. O'Neal had the audacity to proclaim Bynum a better player than Dwight. That's beyond ludicrous and it was proven untrue Friday night in the Magic's 92-80 home victory in front of a sardine-can packed Amway Center. Andrew may have a slightly more polished offensive game, but every other aspect of basketball is clearly dominated by Dwight. With his 21 points and 23 rebounds, Dwight now sits at thirty-seven 20-20 games for his career. Meanwhile, Bynum only has 1 in an injury-riddled Lakers employment.

This is less about Bynum and more about Shaq once again trying to promote himself and bullying active players, even from the TNT studios. Longevity is the difference between Dwight and Shaq when it comes to which Magic man is the best center in franchise history. Shaq was only in Orlando pinstripes for 4 seasons. Howard is doubling that tenure right now, and erasing O'Neal's record book presence in the process. Don't think professional athletes are not viewing franchise record books. Combine longevity with superstar skill and you're going to see plenty of 23-year-old high marks get eclipsed as long as Dwight is still in pinstripes. 

After last night's Laker win, Dwight is 26 points away from claiming sole ownership of another franchise record. This one is topped by 10-year Magic man Nick Anderson. It's also the most appreciated by Magic fans who pay attention to statistics. That would be total points, where Nick has sat atop at 10,650 for over a decade. Friday was also Nick Anderson's 44th birthday, so in a way I'm glad that Dwight didn't take the record last night. Don't fret Magic fans, Nick's still #1 in plenty of categories. There are some very interesting and familiar names on that franchise points list below.  

I've been keeping an eye on this record since late last season. With the Lockout, and all of these constant Dwight rumors, I had my doubts on whether or not Superman would even suit up in Magic pinstripes for this '11-'12 campaign. But here we are, on the cusp of Dwight guaranteeing (in my eyes) his jersey being lifted up into the Amway Center rafters. Points per game wise, Dwight's a little behind this season from the 2010-2011 run. Instead of breaking Nick's record on January 20th, at home versus the Lakers of all teams, Howard may have to settle with accomplishing this feat on the road in Boston on Monday. Not as special as it would be in front of an Orlando standing ovation. Howard very well could surpass 10,650 in Indiana on Tuesday against the Pacers. If Dwight has 2 horrendous road offensive performances on that back-to-back, then it's a lock that Thursday inside Amway Center against the Celtics would be when Superman gets the deed done.

To get a better feel for how much influence Dwight has on the Orlando Magic record books, I'll list off a few that have been accumulated over a body of work that began in 2004. Only Magic player to win a slam dunk competition. Most Defensive Player of the Year awards (3). Most All-Star Games with 5 (Guaranteed to be 6 come next month). Most free throws, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, total rebounds, and blocks. Highest true shooting percentage, total rebound percentage, defensive rating, offensive win shares, defensive win shares, and total win shares. Then you have seasonal records. Highest field goal percentage, free throw attempts, total rebounds, rebounds per game and the list goes on and on. 

Dwight, whether you stay or go, I salute you for everything you've done in Orlando. For making us contenders again, getting us back to the Finals, and giving hundreds upon thousands of hours, money, and resources to the Central Florida area. I'm 23 years old and Howard has been a part of my life for a 1/3 of that. You don't let a little rough patch or an exit ruin that. For now, our 11-4 Magic are better than any team rumored to be going after Dwight, and any team that's on Dwight's 'list'. No city, franchise, or fan base will appreciate Mr. Howard and embrace him as much as Orlando has. There's no doubt about that. So Magic fans, let's keep watching this team have fun, win games, and make a possible final run at that trophy. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ryan Anderson is Playing Like an NBA All-Star

Whether he's voted in as one is another issue. It's been 12 games now into this 2011-2012 Orlando Magic season, which means we are just a tad over one-third of the games through until All-Star Weekend dominates the Orlando area. There's only 15 days remaining until all ballots are tallied up. Ryan Anderson is assisting himself a lot by just scoring a career-high 30 points in the Magic's 102-93 victory at Madison Square Garden. Orlando currently sits at a Southeast division leading 9-3. With 4 games in five days this week against the likes of the Spurs and Lakers, I consider this Ryan's 'showcase week' to anyone considering to vote for him in the write-in section. So far so good. Dwight Howard may not be the only Magic man representing the City Beautiful come the Sunday February 26th exhibition game. 18.25 ppg, 7.25 rpg, 46.9% field goal shooting, 44.8% from 3-point range, and 90% from the free throw stripe is mighty tough to ignore. 

Ryan is leading the NBA in 3-point makes and attempts. Mr. Anderson is the 5th highest scoring forward in the East, and the 3rd highest scoring Eastern Conference power forward behind Andrea Bargnani and Chris Bosh. Ryan is also 8th in rebounding among all East forwards. Ryno, since Otis Smith acquired him from that Vince Carter-Courtney Lee trade, has been groomed to be the starting power forward next to Dwight. Things seem to be clicking for Mr. Anderson finally in SVG's system. He appears to have the starting PF spot all to his own with Big Baby appearing content to come off the bench as the backup center and power forward. Ryan may indeed also get an invite to participate in the 3-point shooting contest with the above stats I've posted, which would be as exciting a chance for Ryan as it would if 'Snoggle' became an official All-Star event. It's also important to not ignore the fact that Ryno is a serious Most Improved Player contender as well. 

Stan Van Gundy is quite the sneaky motivator. Unfortunately, since Mr. Anderson is relegated to just a write-in option, it'll probably have to come down to a coaching selection. Your generic fans definitely care more about guys like Amar'e Stoudemire, Bosh, and Kevin Garnett participating. But if Magic fans definitely tried, a dent could definitely be made in the voting results. After all, Hedo Turkoglu is the 10th highest in Eastern Conference forwards votes. Worse comes to worse, Ryno continues to prove as a solid sidekick alongside Dwight and that maybe Mr. Anderson gets rewarded with a 3-point shootout invitation. A little song and dance video campaign couldn't hurt. Ryan is charismatic and funny enough to where he can be a viable marketing tool in the Central Florida area if given a chance. He's a young talent on the verge of being much more. There's a reason why Otis and the Magic front office want Ryno and Redick to be a part of this franchise's core going ahead. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Your Southeast Division Leading Orlando Magic

It's been a while since we've been able to say that. But with the Hawks losing Al Horford for at least 3 months, and the Heat trying to put Dwyane Wade's ankle together, that's where the 8-3 Magic men sit. Of course, it helps when you go 3-0 on your first West Coast trip with a fourth away game coming on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at noon in New York. Those Knicks have huge health concerns of their own with Amar'e and 'Melo. Are the pieces falling into place for Orlando early on despite the up-and-down Superman roller-coaster? We'll see as Monday also kicks off our only back-to-back-to-back. All three of those Magic West victories at SacramentoPortland, and Golden State came while wearing our cherished yet cursed black jerseys. In beating the Blazers, we finally knocked off a playoff team in one of the best home court advantages in the NBA. That Rose Garden is always boisterous. In defeating the Warriors, the Magic also finally notched a nationally televised win.

Stan Van Gundy is proving to be thriving under the role of underdog. Let's not forget, SVG's lowest win-loss percentage through his now 5th season is 63.4%. He's making Chris Duhon more than useful at backup point guard (Better numbers across the board from last season), and Von Wafer is cracking the rotation. He hasn't had enough reps or touches, but Von is shooting 55.6% from the field and 88.9% from the free throw line. It's great timing too as we don't know how long Jason Richardson's recent knee bruise will keep him out.

Hedo Turkoglu is continuing to play like he did a few years ago, except he's somehow shooting career-highs in FG% and 3-PT%. 14.4 ppg, 5.2 apg, 3.3 rpg, 48.4 FG%, and 47.3 3-PT% shooting isn't something to casually ignore. Along with all of Turkey voting for him, there's a reason why Hedo is the 10th highest voted forward in the Eastern Conference All-Star voting currently. It's baffling how under-the-radar Turk's performances have gone. Then again, in the case of the Warriors win, Hedo's 20 points and 9 assists would easily be overshadowed by Dwight Howard's 45 points and 23 rebounds. Not bad to break a Wilt Chamberlain record. Take that Shaq. Hedo makes it ok for Jameer Nelson to have bad games because Turk just finds a groove as a point forward. 

The ball movement hasn't been this phenomenal since *gasp* the 2008-2009 team. We're still a little 3-point happy, but it's great to see these guys run and attack the rim. Dwight is also playing a lot more like he did 3 years ago where defense came first. Add to that his career-high 2.3 assists per game. Who said the Magic don't have offensive weapons? A few wins and some deep bench play and all of a sudden this team looks quite nice. They looked great last season too until injuries started piling up and the Hawks were able to take advantage of Orlando's poor health.

So far we've been able to work around Jameer's neck spasms, Quentin Richardson's chemical burn, Glen Davis' hip contusion, and now J-Rich's knee bruise. Just keep enjoying the ride, Orlando. We're quickly coming upon our All-Star Weekend, and hey, our team is pretty damn good at this moment in time. Can the wheels fall off and we end up in doomsday mode? Of course. But basketball life is pretty solid right now. Who knows, maybe we'll be in a better position to grab a Monta Ellis or Deron Williams come the trade deadline. Again, stop believing what the mass media is reporting on Dwight. No one knows a thing but Howard, his people, and that Magic front office. The less one over-analyzes the situation, the better.

Photos courtesy of Yahoo! Sports and the Orlando Sentinel. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Magic Must Find Identity on the Road

The Magic finally lost their first home game of the season at Amway Center. Unfortunately, it was on national television (0-for-2 so far after OKC beating) against a Chicago Bulls team that continues to have Orlando's number. Dwight Howard didn't get nearly the support he needed. After having phenomenal outings the first 7 games of this '11-'12 campaign, Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick put up diddly squat when they were expected to produce. Not only that, but each allowed Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver to annihilate them as if they had no one guarding them. Orlando is now 5-3 after an embarrassing 97-83 loss Friday night, and now head out West for their first challenging 4-game road trip.

It's excursions like this, away from Orlando, that determine what type of character and mental strength a coaching staff and roster has. On great days, Orlando is a top defensive team that attacks the rim and loves to run in transition. Don't forget that superb ball movement. On bad days however, the Magic struggle once that Spalding stops getting passed around. Effort hasn't been an issue for this SVG team up to this point, but it's all about being willing to not settle for low percentage shots and getting to the rack.

There is some good news I guess. As long as Glen Davis' leg didn't fall off Friday night, he may be back on track to being the player SVG wants him to be. Jumper is still off. However, setting clean, ground-shaking screens and rebounding well will keep Big Baby out of the doghouse. I will give Redick and Ryno a pass for one bad game. Their mental maturity will show starting today in Sacramento, whether they are ready to accept increased responsibilities or not. 

Also, let's not ignore the fact that Jason Richardson took a giant step forward to getting out of his slump. J-Rich and Jameer Nelson are currently putting up career-worst numbers. That's not what any team wants from a starting backcourt. With Nelson, it's clear he still hasn't recovered from his neck spasms. If these sub-par performances continue, Mighty Mite will need to sit down. Chris DuhonLarry Hughes, and Von Wafer are adequate enough to get the job done for us. No one should ever question Jameer's grit and toughness, but that has hurt this franchise in years past (see the '09 Finals) when he's not 100%. 

I'm still waiting on Stan Van Gundy to dig deeper into his bench. No one in the league is averaging 40 minutes per game this season as coaches know to pace their players in preparation for playoff runs. There's a lot more on the line this week for Orlando than probably any other team in the NBA. It could determine how the front office treats the Dwight situation and whether or not to deal him if they see this team can't contend, or whether or not to bring players to surround Howard with.