The New Jersey Nets venture to central Florida tonight to take on the still Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic. Nets fans’ hopes of landing the 26-year-old, 4X First-Team All-NBA center were dashed yesterday when Howard signed a waiver and forfeited his right to opt out of his contract at the end of this season.
With plan A scuttled, Nets GM Billy King made another move prior to Thursday’s 3PM trade deadline. King dealt 10th-year, 6’11” Mehmet Okur (valuable because of his expiring contract), 6th-year, 6’9” Shawne Williams and a top-3 protected first-round draft pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for 12th-year, 29-year-old, 6’7” SF Gerald Wallace.
Wallace is averaging 13.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg and 35.8 minutes per game this season. The high-motor Wallace is an above-average defender who excels at hustle plays. With coach Avery Johnson’s roster depleted by injury, he’ll want Wallace to suit up as soon as possible.
The Nets last played and won on Wednesday night in Toronto, 98-84. They prevailed even with starting PG Deron Williams missing his third straight game with a strained left calf and starting center Brook Lopez sitting out his sixth contest in a row with a sprained right ankle. In their absence, Gerald Green (now on his second ten- day contract) scored 26 points, and PF Kris Humphries made out with 16 points and a career-high 21 boards.
Dwight Howard had 22 points and 12 rebounds in his squad’s 122-111 loss at San Antonio on Wednesday. Orlando (28-16) sits third in the East behind their Southeast rivals the Miami Heat. With the playoffs firmly in their grasp, the Magic and other top teams will strive to achieve the delicate balance of pacing themselves without losing momentum heading into the postseason.
Tonight the Nets and Magic will square off for the third and last time this compacted regular season. They met on December 29th in Orlando with coach Stan Van Gundy’s guys besting the Garden State gang, 94-78. Howard pulled down 24 boards in the win. And on February 22nd in Jersey, the Magic won 108-91 with the crowd chanting Howard’s name because he mentioned that the Nets were one of his preferred franchises to be traded to. Look for the Magic home crowd to greet Howard with an extra-rousing ovation tonight.
Now that the trade deadline has come and gone and rosters are mostly set for the final third of the regular season, teams can focus on playing basketball and making a playoff run. Tune in to YES at 7:30 PM ET to see if the Nets can pick up a W on the road after seven straight defeats in O-Town and put an end to the Magic’s 10-game win streak against them.