Ever wonder what it’d be like if Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic paired up with the likes of Captain America, Wolverine and the Incredible Hulk to dominate the hardwood? Now, with the Magic locked in a tough series with the Hawks, you can do just that.
New Era, in affiliation with Marvel comics, is set to release brand news caps to commemorate six NBA playoff teams. Orlando’s hat has the iconic Magic logo with the comic book characters on the brim. These caps are available for purchase at New Era flagship stores, national and regional sporting goods retailers, specialty stores, additional NBA arena stores, mid-tier channels sports apparel departments, and online at www.neweracap.com.
Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
If there is one thing we know about Stan Van Gundy, it’s that he’s a pretty quiet guy, reticent to speak his mind to the media, and wholly above speaking publicly in any way that might ruffle fans’ or players’ feathers. That’s why we can be certain that earlier this week, when he made the following comments, Stan had no sort of ulterior motive or objective in mind:
“There’s no matchup for [Dwight Howard] that creates the excitement,” Van Gundy said. “If you got back to when the centers were king, you have Chamberlain-Russell and people say ‘Wow, that’s a match-up you look forward to.’ Now people look forward to Chris Paul against Derrick Rose.”
What Stan was saying, subtext aside, is that the lack of a nemesis is keeping Dwight Howard’s hype factor down. Well, is he right? There are a couple of different ways to approach this. First, let’s look at a crude measure of the league marquee, the 2011 All-Star rosters. Yao Ming aside, there are only three players who were listed either as centers or forward/centers. One of them was Kevin Love. Another was Al Horford. The third was Pau Gasol, who could be seen as a bona fide A-list big man, but I’m not sure that most people think of his battles in the same way they do LeBron/Kobe or Rose/Paul. The other big man on the list who might qualify is Kevin Garnett, and the popular narrative about the Celtics has been that Kendrick Perkins did the heavy lifting when it came to guarding D12. So, on the face of it, taking as limited a sample as I guess you could, it seems like Stan is right: there are currently no direct match-ups for Dwight that seem worthy of the hype that wing or point guard matchups might garner.
- George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel: “Heart and Hustle is back [Orlando] Magic fans! In case you didn’t get the memo, two exciting plays from Orlando’s playoff victory Tuesday night provide documentation that there’s been a resurrection: J.J. Redick wrestling the ball away from Kirk Hinrich, and, while still on the floor zipping a pass to Jameer Nelson for a breakaway layup. And then, Nelson tugging with Hinrich for possession of the ball, setting up a Hedo Turkoglu layup. [...] Alrighty then, let’s celebrate. Or maybe just ponder a different perspective. Professional basketball players should do the heart and the hustle on every play. They are paid very handsomely to do these things, and many times, all it requires is a little extra effort. Unfortunately, sometimes the egos and the commercial endorsements get in the way, but an occasional floor burn is part of the collateral damage for playing at an elite level. But to a greater point, I’m wondering when the Magic officially transformed themselves into a underdog franchise, a bunch of scrappy guys overachieving, clawing and scratching for every victory?”
- Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel: “Rich DeVos, the 85-year-old owner of the Orlando Magic, gave GM Otis Smith permission to spend as much as he wanted after the team reached the NBA Finals in 2009. Almost two years later, the Magic are now one of the highest-paying teams in all of sports, even out-spending flashy European soccer teams and high-profile Major League Baseball teams with no salary cap restrictions. The Magic pay their players an average of $6,367,114 per year, a number only exceeded by Real Madrid and Barcelona of Spain’s top soccer league, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Lakers, according to a study by ESPN the Magazine.”
- John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com: “The Orlando Magic have spent the better part of the last eight months together, either practicing, playing or working out almost every day since the voluntary sessions began in September. But still, even to this day, the players and coaches are learning things about one another and the makeup of this team. There was no greater teaching moment than Tuesday’s Game 2 when the Magic started poorly, trailed by as many as 10 points, struggled to make shots and ever so briefly seemed to be staring at a 0-2 hole. But it’s the way they responded – with J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson diving on the floor for loose balls, with Dwight Howard playing 48 minutes of dominant basketball, with Ryan Anderson giving up his body to take a charge and with Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson shrugging off poor games to make clutch plays late – that spoke volumes about the character of this Magic team. “
- Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “The Cavaliers dominated both games there while sweeping the Hawks in the second round in 2009. The Magic did the same last year, causing Hawks fans to boo the team and All-Star Joe Johnson, who further inflamed them by telling media the Hawks didn’t care if the fans showed up. Home attendance declined for the second consecutive season in 2010-11. There were more big crowds for marquee opponents, but a high percentage of spectators cheered for the visitors. It didn’t help that the Hawks suffered more blowout home losses than any winning team in NBA history, with three defeats by at least 30 points and three others by 20 or more. The Hawks’ home record slipped from 34-7 to 24-17 this season. Only the Knicks won fewer home games among playoff teams. Horford said some players were disappointed by the small and split crowds because they felt fan support didn’t match the team’s success.”
- Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “The Hawks’ home record during the regular season was 24-17. That ranked 16th in the NBA. Many want to blame the lack of success on poor fan support. The problem with that theory is that the only playoff team with a worse home record than Atlanta this season was the Knicks (23-18), who are one of the best-supported teams in the league. [...] But Drew knows: Empty seats or booing fans or too many folks in the crowd pulling for the other team are not legitimate reasons for losing. Teams lose because they lack talent, or interest, or focus.”
As Blue and White Ignite for the 2011 NBA Playoffs, the Magic are encouraging the entire Central Florida community to show their spirit and support the Magic at the Official Playoff Watch Parties for Games 3 & 4 of the First Round on Friday, April 22 and Sunday, April 24, respectively.
Official Playoff Watch Party for Game 3: On Friday, April 22, the Magic will host an Official Playoff Watch Party at Waterford Lakes (near Barnie’s) at 8:00 p.m.
Official Playoff Watch Party for Game 4: On Sunday, April 24, the Magic will host an Official Playoff Watch Party at Colonial TownPark in Lake Mary (near Liam Fitzpatrick’s and Dexter’s) at 7:00 p.m.
Highlights of the Official Playoff Watch Parties will include:
- Large Outdoor Screen
- Appearances by the Orlando Magic Dancers
- Opportunity to win tickets to Game 5
- Bring a chair to enjoy the game!
Photo by Fernando Medina
Dwight Howard is the most valuable player for any team, and if you weren’t convinced in the regular season, take a look at his first two games of the postseason.
Dwight’s game has a gravitational pull to it. We have seen that throughout his career, but he is operating on a whole new level now.
The stats speak for themselves. Through two games, Dwight has posted 79 points and 38 rebounds. Since the merger of the ABA and NBA, he is only the fourth player to accomplish a 75/35 two-game span in the playoffs (the other players were Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). And only Elgin Baylor in 1961 amassed more points and rebounds in his first two playoff games than Dwight.
These dizzying comparisons only get compounded when you consider that this offensive output is coming from not just a “solid defensive player,” but the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Put differently, this means that a defensive specialist is doing an offensive specialist’s work. Sure, that’s what we expect from Dwight, but this is otherworldly.
That’s no surprise to Magic fans. It’s everyday conversation to talk about the way he enforces his will in the paint on both sides of the floor, but take a moment to soak in the excellence that we’re seeing from Dwight.
What we are witnessing is a man on a mission. Dwight is taking every element of his game, every characteristic that defines him, and magnifying it despite the underachieving “support” from the rest of the team.
Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images
Via Peter D. Newmann of ESPN Stats and Information:
The [Orlando] Magic offense has substantially changed from the regular season. Dwight Howard has been a beast. Orlando isn’t making their three-pointers. And their offensive efficiency has suffered.
regular season postseason Pts. per 100 possessions 105.7 98.9 Possessions per 48 minutes 93.5 91.5 Pct. of Pts. from three-pointers 28.4 18.2
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “If the Orlando Magic struggled to shoot the ball against the Atlanta Hawks in just one game, you could call it an aberration. If it happened twice, you could label that a mere coincidence. But the Magic’s continued offensive woes against the Hawks now have to be considered a pattern — a pattern that might force Orlando to change its identity on that end of the court just to escape the first round of these playoffs. [...] In three games against the Hawks since March 30 — one in the regular season and two in these playoffs — the Magic have made only 40.0 percent of their shots from the field and just 26.5 percent of their 3-point tries. Those woeful shooting numbers place even greater pressure on the Magic to avoid turnovers, rebound well and play strong defense. During the regular season, Orlando led the league in 3-pointers made per game (9.4) and 3-pointers attempted per game (25.6). Now, all of a sudden, those shots from beyond the arc just aren’t falling.”
- Jason Richardson stepped up when the Orlando Magic needed him to.
- Check out two key hustle plays that ignited the Magic’s win against the Atlanta Hawks.
- Tony Allen questions Dwight Howard‘s Defensive Player of the Year coronation.
- John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com: “If one thing has become apparent to Howard and the Magic after two games of this first-round playoff series, it’s that nothing at all is going to be easy. That’s so unlike last spring, of course, when the Magic ransacked the Hawks in a four-game sweep by a historic 25 points a game on average. But with this series tied at 1-all heading into Friday’s Game 3 in Atlanta, it’s apparent that the Magic and Hawks will likely continue to make life tough for one another. [...] Nothing at all was easy about the Magic’s Game 2 victory that knotted the series. Orlando fell behind by 10 midway through the second quarter, shot the ball poorly all night and nearly squandered a 12-point lead late in the fourth quarter. Leading 78-76, point guard Jameer Nelson dived to save a ball from going out of bounds and fed it to Hedo Turkoglu, who eventually converted a layup to put the Magic up four. And seconds later, Jason Richardson took a feed from Turkoglu and capped another poor shooting night with a 3-point dagger that secured the victory for the Magic.”
- The Magic’s desire to play with energy and effort on defense returned in Game 2.
- Matt Moore of CBSSports.com: “The Magic’s offense? Still missing. The Hawks’ matchup advantages? Still there (Josh Smith 17 points, Jamal Crawford 25 points). But the Magic reasserted some of their own with Jameer Nelson edging Kirk Hinrich (who couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a submarine in the middle of a deep-sea trench Tuesday night). But systemically the Magic got what they needed. The Hawks got their win in Orlando and now head back to Atlanta. System vs. Personnel. The battle continues. We’ve told you again and again. This one is going to be long and tough. And even in a loss, you have to wonder if the momentum doesn’t lie with Atlanta.”
- Dwight Howard had one of the lines of the night according to Shannon Booher of SLAM ONLINE: “That’s EVERY minute in case you didn’t know. Another dominating performance from the guy who received the L.O.N. M.V.P. vote. They almost blew this one, though, despite a seemingly uninspired (except for J-Creezy) effort from the Hawks. Seriously — Josh Smith and Joe Johnson — the Playoffs started a few days ago. Y’all are invited to participate. Special note to Josh — you are allowed to drive to the basket and utilize your insane physical gifts.”
- Does Orlando remind you of the Ohio State program in college basketball?
- Tracy Weissenberg of SLAM ONLINE matter-of-factly responds to Howard playing all 48 minutes against the Hawks: “Game 3 is Friday in Atlanta and Howard is lucky he has two days to rest.”
- John Hollinger of ESPN Insider: “I’ve ripped coaches for extreme conservatism with foul trouble before, but what Larry Drew did Tuesday night in Orlando takes the cake. It may very well cost the Hawks the series. For those who didn’t see, Horford — Atlanta’s best player — picked up two fouls in the first 2:11 of the game, and Drew’s response was to sit him out for the ENTIRE FIRST HALF. This is straight out of the Larry Brown-Mike Woodson playbook, and Drew comes from that coaching tree, but I can’t emphasize enough what an irrational and counterproductive strategy this is. [...] There is no way to sugarcoat it: This is the most indefensible coaching decision I’ve seen this season. Horford played the entire second half and finished the game with — you guessed it — two fouls. This didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who watched the Hawks this season. Horford has one of the lowest foul rates in the league at his position — just 2.85 fouls per 40 minutes — so even if he had stayed in the game with the two fouls he was at virtually no risk of fouling out.”
- Zach Lowe of The Point Forward is also wondering why head coach Larry Drew sat Horford.
- In case you haven’t heard, Howard has an injured right shoulder.
- Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus: “The difference in the first two games of this series was less about adjustments and more about regression to the mean. While the Orlando Magic had more of a balanced offensive output than in Game One, when Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson got virtually no help from their teammates, the end result was about the same. In fact, the Magic scored fewer points per possession. However, the Atlanta Hawks were unable to replicate their hot Game One shooting, and the result was an Orlando victory that felt more resounding most of the second half.”
- Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie: “Dwight Howard was everywhere, and though Orlando’s perimeter defense improved somewhat, I’m handing most of the acclaim at Howard’s feet as he effectively closed off the mid-range that worked so well for the Hawks in Game 1. Jamal Crawford and Al Horford had their moments, but they weren’t anywhere near as effective from just inside the 3-point line as we saw on Saturday, and Howard’s ability to show and then get back on the glass is the reason why.”
- Head coach Stan Van Gundy thinks there’s a lack of hype surrounding Howard.
Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images
Before the playoffs started, I previewed Orlando’s first round matchup using data from Synergy Sports Technology. Let’s take a look at the results from the playoff games in Orlando.
PPP = Points Per Possession
As a team, Orlando posted up 25 times, and 24 of the post up chances came from Dwight. The only non-Dwight post up was when Brandon Bass went against Al Horford in the 1st quarter. The Magic averaged 1.24 PPP, and continued their trend of posting up more versus Atlanta than they did against other opponents this year (16.3%).
Orlando was dominant when they isolated on offense. In the regular season, they averaged 0.83 PPP. In Game 1, they increased their mark by 0.6 PPP. Hedo Turkoglu was 2-2 in isolation. He hit a three-pointer over Etan Thomas to give Orlando a 19-17 lead in the first quarter and hit an off balance jumper in the final minutes of the game
Dwight Howard was the third best player in the NBA when he cut to the rim in the regular season. In the opener versus Atlanta he finished his first cut opportunity with a dunk, and on the second chance he drew a foul and shot a pair of free throws.
In the first 82 games, Orlando was the NBA’s best team at scoring with their roll men. In the first game of the playoffs, their roll men never used a possession. However, the ball handler in the pick-and-roll used nearly 1 out of 5 possessions.
Orlando’s spot up game was miserable on Saturday, and their PPP was less than half of their regular season average. The Magic attempted 15 spot-up attempts, and 11 were three-pointers. Gilbert Arenas and Jameer Nelson each made one spot-up three, while Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu were 0-5 combined.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “The Orlando Magic may have saved their season Tuesday night. And to do it, they relied on a tried-and-true formula: an improved defense, a critical hustle play by Jameer Nelson and a 48-minute dose of Dwight Howard. Riding another Herculean performance by their all-star center, the Magic outlasted the Atlanta Hawks 88-82 in an intense, emotional Game 2 to even their first-round series at one game apiece. Those teammates followed his lead. [...] Nelson, his co-captain, played almost 38 minutes even though he missed part of the Magic’s morning shootaround due to a migraine headache. The diminutive point guard probably turned in the most important play of the game — and most important play of the Magic’s season — late in the fourth quarter. The Hawks had gone on a 12-2 run to cut the Magic’s lead to 78-76 with 2:14 remaining in regulation. On the ensuing possession, Atlanta’s Zaza Pachulia knocked the ball out of Howard’s hands and toward the sideline. Nelson sprinted toward the ball, dived onto the parquet floor and collected it before Kirk Hinrich could. Nelson passed it to Howard, who sent it to Ryan Anderson, who tossed it to Hedo Turkoglu. Turkoglu drove to the basket, banked it off the glass and the ball rolled around the rim gingerly before it fell through the hoop.”
- Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: “All I know is that Stan Van Gundy has had to robb Peter to pay Paul as he tries to piece together game plans with baling wire and duct tape. His slim pick’ns aren’t just slim; they’re microscopic. I don’t want to say that Van Gundy was searching for help, but I swear he had dogs and a flashlight at his disposal. You couldn’t blame him if he tried to sign Nick Anderson out of the stands, and Nick’s 43. What’s the whole key for the Magic the rest of the way? Rest. They need to thank the NBA schedule-makers who place two, sometimes three, days between games. Game 2 is Friday night in Atlanta. The Magic are taking today off and will hardly break a sweat on Thursday. Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson could use a week in The Bahamas and intravenous fluids. Because with no bench, Van Gundy needs his starters to put their feet up as much as possible. After two games, Hawks are outscoring the Magic’s reserves, 64-26. Jamal Crawford has 48 himself.”
- Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “Do you know how lucky you are, Magic fans? It’s rare when you actually get to watch a high school kid grow into a legend right before their eyes. And, of course, this is why Orlando fans anguish: Because they know how important these playoffs are to Dwight’s future in Orlando. It certainly didn’t help ease their worried minds a few days ago when one ESPN “insider” speculated that Howard will be traded by the Magic this summer. Forget the speculation about Dwight’s future and savor the coronation of Dwight’s greatness. Van Gundy said something very wise a couple of months ago when he was talking about all the hullabaloo surrounding Carmelo Anthony’s departure from Denver and the resulting speculation about whether Dwight would stay in Orlando. Van Gundy’s message – and I’m paraphrasing – was essentially this: Why do American sports fans and media spend so much time and effort worrying about what might happen down the road rather than enjoying what’s right in front of them now? And what is right in front of Magic fans at this juncture in time is a once-in-a-lifetime player. Sometimes I wonder if Howard is appreciated enough, not only locally but nationally. Do we realize what we are watching? Do we understand that he is not only the greatest Magic player of all-time, but one of the greatest NBA players of all-time? We have another Russell and Chamberlain in our midst.”
- John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com: “In a game that was never easy – certainly not when Orlando trailed by 10 points in the second quarter nor when Atlanta got within two points with 2 minutes to play – the Magic were finally able to exhale Tuesday night with a 1-1 split in this best-of-seven playoff series. Orlando needed another monstrous, 48-minute game from Dwight Howard, a clutch layup from Hedo Turkoglu and a dagger of a 3-pointer from Jason Richardson to hold off Atlanta 88-82 Tuesday at the Amway Center to pull even in this remarkably even first-round playoff series. J.J. Redick dived on the floor early in the game to corral a loose ball and Jameer Nelson did the same late in the fourth quarter – both dives resulting in key Magic baskets and were emblematic of the effort that the Magic poured into what many considered a must-win.”
- Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post: “Indeed, the way Drew doled out his frontcourt minutes will come into question here. Leaving two end-of-the-bench types alone to fend with the league’s best center is one thing, but benching one’s own best player for almost the entire first half is another. Al Horford picked up his second personal foul just 2:10 into the game, which prompted Drew to pull Horford for the rest of the half. The trickle-down effect it had on Atlanta’s rotation left it without a reliable offensive big man. On a night when Johnson (6-of-15, 14 points), Marvin Williams (1-of-6, 4 points) and Kirk Hinrich (4-of-12, 9 points) struggled to produce from the wings, Atlanta needed another scorer. The fact that the Hawks whittled a 14-point Magic lead to 4 with less than two minutes to play only further underscores the seriousness of Drew’s gaffe. I believe Horford represents an improvement over Powell and Armstrong to such a degree that he would have been worth at least 6 points, the Magic’s final victory margin, had he played over those two for at least another 8 first-half minutes. He at least commands defensive attention; Howard rightly ignored Armstrong and Powell whenever the Hawks had possession. Indeed, Drew helped turn Howard, the league’s top defender, loose defensively as a helper.”
- Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Dwight Howard had another dominant performance, and this time more of his teammates chipped in. In the end, the Hawks couldn’t hold down Orlando’s shooters as Howard had his way with their centers. The Magic pulled away late for an 88-82 victory in Game 2 of the first-round Eastern Conference playoffs series. Orlando’s Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Ryan Anderson all made timely 3-pointers in the second half. Those plays, plus Howard’s 33 points, were enough for the Magic to tie the series 1-1 as it moves to Philips Arena for Game 3 on Friday.”
- Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “They won game one and threw a scare into Orlando in game two. Forget the odds. Forget the mood swings of the regular season. Forget the part of you that says, ‘I don’t like this team. I don’t trust this team. They’re going nowhere.’ The Hawks didn’t guarantee themselves a playoff series upset with their performances in Orlando. But they certainly sent a message in game two that game one wasn’t a fluke. After winning the series opener Saturday, they led the heavily favored and desperate Magic by as much as 10 points in the second quarter, fizzled, fell behind by 14 in the fourth, looked dead and then showed the fight and resiliency that too often was missing this season to pull to within two at 78-76 with two minutes left. In the end, they ran out of gasps and spasms, losing 88-82 Tuesday night. But Orlando walked off their home court with their hearts nearly jumping out of their chest — and this time Jameer Nelson didn’t make a stop to make a crack about catching Chicago in the second round.”
- Bret LaGree of Hoopinion: “As impressive and enjoyable as the Game 1 victory was, two concerns lingered: the probably unsustainable percentage of jump shots the Hawks made (unofficially, I have the Hawks 7-23 from 16-23 feet and, thus, 40.7 eFG% outside of 16 feet once three-pointers are accounted for) and Larry Drew’s tactical personnel decisions. In Game 2, the Hawks shot much worse and had a chance to win despite Larry Drew. It was a terribly wasted opportunity but, if Drew can either commit to playing his best players until they are disqualified or not play his worst players until absolutely necessary, the Hawks, in possession of home court advantage, can still conceivably win this series. Which is rather amazing considering they were outscored over the course of the 82 game season and their head coach either didn’t try his hardest or proved himself obscenely incompetent in one half of their playoff games.”