AP Photo/John Raoux
There was a lot of hype surrounding Friday’s game between the Orlando Magic and New Jersey Nets.
At first, there was a strong possibility that Dwight Howard was going to show up at Amway Center in a Nets uniform. Had Dwight not waived the early termination option in his contract, it seemed more than likely that the Magic were going to send him to New Jersey at the trade deadline to avoid giving him a chance to become a free agent and possibly leave Orlando during the offseason. By trading Dwight for assets, the Magic would have been merely protecting themselves from letting Dwight walk during free agency and getting nothing in return. For Magic fans, to see Dwight sitting on the visitor’s bench would have been awkward.
Instead, with Dwight opting in to the final year of his deal (thus staying with Orlando for one more season), he did not get traded. Which made things awkward for the Nets on Friday, having to play against Dwight and the Magic.
And with no Deron Williams, no Jordan Farmar, no Gerald Wallace (acquired by New Jersey at the deadline), and no Brook Lopez, New Jersey had to play Orlando shorthanded. It’s no surprise, then, that the Nets lost.
To be frank, the Magic’s win against New Jersey — what with Dwight’s indecision impacting two franchises — was merely a footnote.
What matters now is the road ahead for Orlando. With Dwight’s future no longer casting a cloud over the Magic (for now), now the team will be able to fully focus their attention on the playoffs, which are rapidly coming up. As of now, Orlando is in line for the the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, with the Indiana Pacers trailing by 2.5 games and the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks trailing by 3.5 games respectively. With 21 games left for the Magic, their goal should be to clinch the No. 3 seed in the East (the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat are locked in with the top two seeds regardless of the order).
Yes, that may mean Orlando might face off against the Hawks or Boston Celtics in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, two teams that have had the Magic’s number in recent times. But the odds that Orlando will be able to successfully avoid the Hawks or Celtics, with either the No. 3 or No. 4 seeds, are low. That’s a road the Magic will likely have to travel, so getting home-court advantage to try to maximize the chances of a series victory against Atlanta or Boston should be the goal.
Which means Orlando needs to keep winning. For the Magic, Friday’s win against the Nets was a start.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
Dwight had a game-high 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting from the floor, including six rebounds and three blocks in roughly 32 minutes of playing time. A rather ho-hum performance for Dwight but it was more than enough against New Jersey.
That Game Was … Boring
Playing against a Nets’ squad that was missing three-fifths of their starting lineup, Orlando was on cruise control the entire game. That made for a rather uneventful evening between both teams.