Indiana Survives Orlando Comeback, Wins In Overtime

The Pacers survived a late Orlando rally and escaped Game 4 with a 101-99 victory in overtime to take a 3-1 lead on the series. Indiana made up for an embarrassing home loss to the Magic in their playoff opener by winning three straight, including both games in Orlando. The series now shifts back to Indiana and it looks like the Pacers will advance to the second round after edging Glen Davis and Jason Richardson in Game 4.

Although he missed a shot at the buzzer to send the game to double overtime, Glen Davis played another phenomenal game and somehow outperformed Roy Hibbert again, finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds (compared to Hibbert’s 14 points and 11 rebounds). But even with Hibbert fouling out and Jason Richardson and the rest of Orlando’s perimeter guards hitting shots, the Magic were unable to get the win after erasing a 19-point deficit that the Pacers had built up with just over eight minutes to play. The Magic benefitted from much better outside shooting from Jason Richardson, who ended the night with 25 points, along with Hedo Turkoglu, who shot 50 percent. In fact, every one of Orlando’s starters finished in double digits, even though Jameer Nelson and Ryan Anderson struggled with their shooting. J.J. Reddick had 10 points, including a big 3-pointer late in regulation to tie the game up.

David West’s big game led the Pacers offensively in Game 4.

The Pacers built up a sizable third quarter advantage because of David West’s standout performance, leading Indiana with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Danny Granger fulfilled his role as a predominant scorer, finishing with 21 points and seven rebounds, but it was George Hill who ended up being the hero after scoring 11 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to hold off Orlando’s desperate run. Hill hit two free throws with 2.2 seconds left to put his team ahead in overtime, which was followed by Glen Davis’ last-second attempt to tie the game and send it to double overtime. And although Paul George only scored two points, his good defense on Davis’ last second shot helped secure Indiana’s Game 4 victory since Roy Hibbert had fouled out.

With the series heading back to Indiana for a decisive Game 5, as long as the Pacers take care of business, they should finish the Magic off. Despite their success in Orlando, they want to finish this series at home and as quickly as possible. Unless the Magic have a stellar shooting night and Ryan Anderson actually shows up to play, the Pacers should run away with this one. Credit Stan Van Gundy and the Magic for competing for the majority of this series, but without Dwight Howard, they’re not a threatening playoff opponent. The Pacers will need to play much better if they advance (which is pretty much a guarantee at this point), but for now, as long as they take care of business at home, they will get a chance to rest before they take on the Heat in round 2 (unless the Knicks defy NBA history and miraculously come back from a 3-0 deficit).

Glen Davis is still eating up Roy Hibbert in the series, but Indiana got the win anyway.

Roy Hibbert Wakes Up

I’ve been pretty hard on Roy Hibbert so far in the Pacers-Magic series because of his inability to dominate Glen Davis and the Orlando frontcourt despite having a five-inch advantage on his opposition. But Hibbert finally came to life in Game 3 and the Pacers cruised to a 97-74 victory on the road. Coincidence? I think not.

After a shocking and all-around ugly loss at home in their playoff opener, Indiana desperately needed to regroup for Game 2. Danny Granger disappeared when his team needed his leadership the most and shot the ball poorly. Hibbert got a huge number of blocks and rebounded well, but he was still outplayed by Glen Davis. And to top it all off, the Pacers bench was nowhere to be found. But in Game 2, they played a much more cohesive and focused game to tie the series up before heading to Orlando. But before Game 3, the one piece of the puzzle that was still missing that prevented this series from being a massacre was Roy Hibbert. And after his 18-point, 10-rebound Game 3 performance, it’s safe to say the Pacers could finally be back on track.

Roy Hibbert may have finally shown up for the playoffs.

Danny Granger is the alpha dog for this team and Glen Davis is still finding ways to score, but as long as Hibbert continues to rebound and put points on the scoreboard consistently, he should be able to at least balance Davis out. There’s no reason for Glen Davis to have outplayed Hibbert offensively in this series so far, but as long as Hibbert handles the defensive end by rebounding, contesting shots and possibly limiting Davis’ scoring, he’ll have done his job to help Indiana advance past this weaker Orlando team. Paul George and George Hill have been playing better and are consistently scoring, Danny Granger will continue to rack up points as long as he keeps shooting and even Darren Collison reached double figures in Game 3. So as long as Roy Hibbert holds up his end of the bargain by showing up every night (which really isn’t too much to ask considering the size advantage he has on Orlando’s back line), the Pacers should win this series in five games, six at the most.

On the Orlando side of things, Roy Hibbert’s Game 3 performance is pretty much a playoff death sentence. The Magic’s perimeter shooters (Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu) haven’t been able to get anything going since Game 1, Ryan Anderson has tremendously struggled shooting the ball and Jameer Nelson is scoring, but not consistently enough to be a real threat. J.J. Reddick has done well off the bench, but considering their starters’ inability to score outside of Glen Davis, this Magic team that had so much to play for in Game 1 is in serious trouble, even with Game 4 in Orlando tomorrow. Danny Granger will get his 20+ points per game, Paul George and George Hill are on the uprise and David West is a threat to have a good scoring night every game, which is why the Pacers have taken a 2-1 lead on the series. But if Roy Hibbert can lend his offensive talent to his defensive work so far, there is no possible way for Orlando to win this series.

Ryan Anderson has had a rough series so far. The Magic might be done at this point.

Dwight Howard’s 2011-12 Season

Dwight Howard’s year started off and for awhile, it looked like it would be a memorable one. Superman had the Magic at the third spot in the East despite carrying a lackluster supporting cast night in and night out. But Howard’s potential MVP season went downhill pretty quick and will forever be scarred in history by a season-long drama that culminated with yesterday’s announcement that he will miss the remainder of the regular season and the entire playoffs for the Magic. The herniated disk in Howard’s back will require surgery and sideline him from contact drills for four months, meaning he’ll be back next season in full health. But after a tumultuous season full of flip-flopping, behind-the-scenes moves, rumors and apparent backstabbing, should Orlando even want him back?

Dwight Howard put his city through hell this season, but Orlando’s been in an uncomfortable position ever since Howard announced he was unhappy there with Stan Van Gundy. Then management started catering to his every whim in order to appease their spoiled but lovable superstar. They brought in Glen Davis and Gilbert Arenas last year to make him happy, shipping off the now-valuable Brandon Bass to Boston. They most likely bent over backwards before the trade deadline this year to try and bring someone else in to appease Superman. They allegedly told him he’d have managerial powers beyond that of a player, effectively being able to decide the fate of both Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith at the end of the season. Ever since Howard made his discontent and desire to be traded known to the public, Magic management has has done everything but appoint him as head coach and GM in order to get him to stay. Which is still not guaranteed. Enough is enough.

Now I’m not one of those who immediately jumped on the “Blame Howard!” bandwagon when the Magic’s season first started to take a turn for the worse. I didn’t think he was faking his injury or using it as a form of protest after Van Gundy publicly threw him under the bus. Yesterday’s report describing the severity of his injury should prove those rumors to be false. I still don’t know for sure whether or not Howard has to power to decide the fate of Orlando’s head coach and GM. And I understand Howard’s frustration with his team and his coach. If you were a once-in-a-lifetime superstar, would you want to play for the sarcastic Van Gundy surrounded by a bunch of role players who most likely wouldn’t even start for some of the better teams in the league? J.J. Reddick, Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and even Ryan Anderson are all quality role players and outside shooters at times, but those aren’t the players you build a championship team around. So everyone should ease up off of Dwight Howard a little bit. But it’s just a bit, and that bit ends there.

Howard played through the pain and made his back worse to prove to his team that he wasn't quitting on them. That's gotta be worth something.

What we’ve seen from Howard this season has been downright despicable at times. This isn’t the kind of behavior you want to see out of any player on your team, let alone your franchise star. Howard has vehemently denied his involvement in management, he’s denied that he wants Van Gundy gone, he’s denied that he quit on his team and he’s denied that his injury was just an excuse to spite his coach and his teams with all the rumors swirling around him. But Howard is guilty of leaving an entire organization and fan base hanging. He is guilty of flaking back and forth between staying and leaving on the day of the trade deadline. He may be guilty of trying to usurp his head coach who helped develop him into the defensive juggernaut he has become. And while his performance on the court says otherwise, his off-the-court actions, “roll the dice” comments and overall lack of commitment to the city that’s given him so much is just as good as quitting on his team, his fans, his coach and his city. Howard doesn’t understand that he can put up 30 points and 20 rebounds every night for his team, but it won’t make him a team player or a franchise star worth remembering if he’s doing it while looking into where he can play next season.

I think there are a lot of people to blame in this season of melodrama between Dwight Howard and Van Gundy. Howard shouldn’t be orchestrating these managerial moves behind closed doors if he is, just like Van Gundy shouldn’t have said what he said to throw his star player under the bus. You can say all you want about how “that’s just how Van Gundy is” and how he just wants everything to be out in the open, but there are some things you should keep within the family. Telling reporters that Superman wanted him gone was a huge mistake that broke this story open again.

When reports surfaced Thursday morning that Howard wouldn’t play anymore for Stan Van Gundy, I didn’t know what to think. I hesitated on writing about it or passing out judgement until the full story was revealed, and thankfully, Howard furiously denied the latest rumors again and the real report that he required season-ending surgery on his back came out. Never mind the fact that his back got a lot worse because he played through the injury, which happened after people questioned his dedication to his team and the game with that mailed-in performance (the day Van Gundy called him out). Never mind that before all the trade deadline drama and Van Gundy’s foolish mistake, the Magic were playing pretty well behind a terrific season from Howard that deserved MVP consideration. I think that Howard tarnished his legacy in both Orlando and the NBA this season. Some of what ruined his reputation is fair and he should bare the blame for the things he did wrong, but there are some things that Van Gundy and Orlando’s management should have handled better that are unfairly placed on Superman. It will be interesting to see where Van Gundy and Howard end up next season, but for now, blame Dwight for what Dwight did and don’t buy into the rumors until the full story is unveiled. Because things are way too political and deceptive down in Orlando right now to know fact from fiction. Orlando fans should want Dwight Howard back, even if he’s on thin ice. Given the choice between Howard and Van Gundy, they’d be foolish not to pick Howard. But one thing is for sure: lf Dwight Howard is in an Orlando Magic uniform next year, he’s going to have to bust his ass to move up from Clark Kent to Superman again.

Howard's 2011-12 season will be forever stained by all the drama and flip-flopping. But Magic fans should want him back if he's committed to winning for them again. We'll have to wait it out to see.

When Magic Becomes Kryptonite

With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, talks of the Magic dealing Dwight Howard have all but died down and the general consensus is that Superman will spend the remainder of the season in Orlando. Howard made his intentions of leaving clear a long time ago, but it looks like the Magic are going to take their chances on trying to land a big piece to lure him into staying around a little longer. They take this risk with the knowledge that if they fail, Dwight is free to leave after the season is over and they will receive nothing in return for his departure. Their faith that he will stay either out of loyalty to the city or because they believe they can attract big names is inspiring, but even with Howard, the Magic have seemed to be extremely unpredictable this season.

What’s funny about all of this is that in actuality, the Magic are currently third in the Eastern Conference standings at 25-15. Dwight Howard’s been a monster in the paint, putting up MVP-numbers of 20.7 points, 15 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1.5 steals per game, leading his team in all four of these categories. Even the NBA All-Star game, which brings in a considerable amount of attention and general good feelings, was in Orlando this year. So why does Superman need to leave? And why do the Magic look so dysfunctional despite their status in the East?

The Magic are third in the East, but they don't look like it when they play. Remember the 31-point loss to the Hornets?

First of all, the current state of the East should be addressed. Atlanta, Indiana and Philadelphia are behind right now, but only because they have played less games. Although the Pacers and Sixers are currently suffering losing streaks, they have shown for the majority of the season that they can win and you can be guaranteed they’ll start climbing back up the standings soon. These three teams will soon deflate the Magic’s seemingly impressive standing in the East, which brings up another problem: what’s wrong with the Orlando Magic.

The Magic have a wealth of problems to deal with. Jameer Nelson’s lackluster season is a big one. Orlando’s lack of a bench beyond JJ Reddick is another. A significant drop in Glen Davis’ production from last year with the Celtics, which is a huge contributor to the team’s lack of a bench, represents another unspoken problem. Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu’s inconsistent 3-point shooting and all-around offensive presence compounds the Magic’s troubles even further (J-Rich’s age and injuries certainly don’t help). But the biggest problem the Magic face might come as a surprise. Because of the lack of a great supporting cast around Dwight Howard, the city of Orlando is starting to realize that the biggest reason for the Magic’s problems is Superman himself.

Jameer Nelson's lackluster season is one of many problems that all stack up into the biggest problem: Dwight Howard wanting to leave.

On paper, that statement doesn’t make much sense. Howard is the most coveted big man in the league for a reason. He’s putting up MVP-numbers this season and is the biggest factor in the Orlando Magic winning games. On a team where Ryan Anderson is the only other bright spot, the majority of the Magic’s success should be attributed to Dwight Howard. But although this is all true, Superman is still the reason for Orlando’s losses and problems. We can point to Nelson and J-Rich not contributing enough, but it must be pretty difficult to focus on your job when your star player and team rock is talking about where he could see himself playing every week. Howard opening his mouth about playing in New Jersey or Chicago or L.A. or Golden State has damaged this team’s chemistry. Yes, the Magic are winning ballgames. Yes, Dwight Howard has stated over and over again that until that trading day comes, he’s giving everything he’s got to the city of Orlando. And yes, Howard has elevated his play to prove that he means what he says. But can anyone really be fooled into thinking that Superman and the rest of his teammates are of sound mind or have any chance at building team chemistry with all this off-court turmoil?

The smartest thing would have been to accept that it’s time to rebuild, find a quality trade for Howard (a decent big man and a dynamic guard/forward would have been ideal) and move on. There were talks of dealing Howard to the Lakers, but the Magic would have been slightly downgrading at the center position, and even if they got both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, they would still be hurting for better guards/forwards. And any chances of Dwight joining Deron Williams in New Jersey faded as the already-downgrade prospect Brook Lopez continues to struggle with injury problems.

This trade doesn't seem likely anymore.

So instead, the Magic switched to trying to keep Howard interested in staying in Orlando by looking at Monta Ellis in Golden State. But the Warriors aren’t interested in what the Magic have to offer (what team should be?), so the only way Ellis is coming to Orlando is if Superman himself ships off for Golden State. Now the Magic are in real trouble, because without the ability to attract any big names, along with several bad losses on the season (a 31-point loss to the Celtics, a 26-point loss to the Hornets and Tuesday’s 16-point loss to the five-win Charlotte Bobcats), Dwight Howard most likely feels like it’s time to move on. The only thing Orlando has going for it in hoping that Dwight Howard resigns with the Magic is that their pure loyalty and love for him persuades him to stick around.

Superman has had an immediate and substantial impact on his team since he first donned an Orlando Magic uniform. The Magic went to the Finals and have been competitive in the Eastern Conference playoffs for the past few years, but have come up just short every time. And every time Dwight Howard takes the court and leads the Magic to a win, I’m reminded of the climactic scene of Superman Returns, where Superman carries a giant growing mass of land and kryptonite away from the citizens of Metropolis, flying higher and higher into the sky where he launches it into space before plummeting to the ground as the kyptonite finally takes its toll. Dwight Howard’s superhuman efforts carry this team, but the kryptonite that is the Orlando Magic has taken its toll and it might not be long before Superman falls right into another city.

Coming soon to an NBA arena near you.

NBA Sunday Recap

Here are the major highlights of Sunday’s NBA action:

Thunder vs. Nuggets – The Thunder got a quality win in overtime in the best game of the day, outlasting the Nuggets 124-118 thanks to a monster game from Kevin Durant, who finished with a career-high 51 points and 8 rebounds. Russell Westbrook would have been the story with 40 points and 9 assists if not for Durant’s big night. The Thunder closed the first half on an 8-0 run as Denver came into Oklahoma City determined despite not having Danilo Gallinari or Nene. But the run carried over into the second half as OKC opened the third quarter on a 12-0 run. Although the resilient Nuggets surged to tie the game at 83 heading into the 4th, the Thunder would not be denied as Kevin Durant scored 5 points in the final 35 seconds to send it to overtime. Serge Ibaka finished with a triple double of 14 points, 15 rebounds and 11 blocks, while Arron Afflalo led the Nuggets with 27 points. The Thunder got a great overtime win here, but look for the Nuggets to go back to their winning ways once Gallinari and Nene return.

Knicks vs. Mavs – The Mavs came into Madison Square Garden on a six-game winning streak and Dirk played at his best, scoring 34 points. But the Knicks would not be denied and proved themselves as legitimate contenders in the East with a 104-97 win. Despite having 9 turnovers, Jeremy Lin led the Knicks with 28 points and 14 assists, while JR Smith had 15 points in his debut in New York. Steve Novak and Lin led the late charge as they Knicks erased a third quarter deficit capped off by Lin’s steal and dunk, while Novak then knocked down four 3’s in the 4th quarter. Six players scored in double digits for New York. With an impressive win like this over a quality defensive Dallas squad, one has to wonder how good the Knicks can be when Melo returns. Just think about this starting lineup: Lin, JR, Melo, Amare and Chandler.

Heat vs. Magic – Although the Knicks/Mavs contest was an exciting game to watch, the Heat showed they are still the beast of the East from the get-go, winning 90-78. Wade had 12 points in the first quarter, including an impossible fadeaway in the corner and two alley-oop dunks from James (one from half court). LeBron James almost ended up with a triple double with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists and Wade pitched in 27 points. The Magic looked underwhelming once again and it seems they may not be a very functional unit until Dwight Howard is either traded or commits to staying. JJ Reddick started for Jason Richardson (who sat out with chest pain) and led the team with 17 points. Howard had 12 points and 15 rebounds.

Timberwolves vs. 76ers – The Timberwolves were able to edge the 76ers 92-91 with .01 seconds left on a pair of Kevin Love free throws in a close game that came down to the wire in Minnesota. Jrue Holiday led the 76ers with 20 points and 5 rebounds, while Ricky Rubio led the T-Wolves with 22 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Love finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds. Look for the Timberwolves to be in the hunt for the playoffs this year, even if the 76ers may be slightly overrated right now.

Suns vs. Lakers – The Suns exacted a little revenge on Kobe and the Lakers at home in a dominant 102-90 win after surging to a 63-40 halftime lead. Jared Dudley had a season-high 25 points to lead Phoenix. Marcin Gortat ended up with 21 points and 15 rebounds while Grant Hill added 15 points. Kobe Bryant continued his personal dominance against the Suns, finishing with 36 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists.

Cavs vs. Kings – Kyrie Irving hit two free throws with .04 seconds to go to give the Cavs a close 93-92 win over the Kings. Irving’s free throws came just seconds after Demarcus Cousins hit a bucket to give Sacramento the lead. Irving finished with 23 points and Antawn Jamison had 21. Isaiah Thomas had a career-high 23 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds in his second start.

Pistons vs. Celtics – Boston continued to struggle and show signs of frustration with a 96-81 loss to the streaking Detroit Pistons, who have won seven of their last nine games. Greg Monroe had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists while Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 18. Boston was missing Kevin Garnett due to personal reasons, as well as Brandon Bass who is still out with a knee injury. Doc Rivers and Chris Wilcox received technicals for arguing calls with the referees. Rajon Rondo received two technicals in less than ten seconds after throwing the ball at the referee and was ejected.

Pacers vs. Bobcats – The Pacers looked to keep the momentum going with a 108-73 blow out of the Bobcats after their last win, which followed a five-game losing streak. Roy Hibbert had 18 points and 14 rebounds for Indiana, while Danny Granger and David West each chipped in 14 points. Derrick Brown led the Bobcats with 16 points and Kemba Walker added 15. The Bobcats have lost 17 of their last 18 games. Keep an eye on the Pacers going forward; they may not have flash, but good teams beat teams they’re supposed to.

Nets vs. Bucks – The Bucks beat the Nets 92-85 thanks to career highs from Ersan Ilyasova, who had 29 points and 25 rebounds. Brandon Jennings had 17 points while Deron Williams led New Jersey with 26 points. Brook Lopez, who has missed the entire season with a broken foot, played 22 minutes and had 9 points and 2 rebounds. Be sure that Brook Lopez is no longer on your IR in fantasy leagues.

Rockets vs. Jazz – The Rockets held off a late rally by the Jazz in a 101-85 win thanks to Kyle Lowry’s 32 points and 9 assists. Luis Scola had 26 points, while Al Jefferson led Utah with 23 points and 11 rebounds. The win has the Rockets as the seven spot in the West.