Gameday Dish: Knicks vs. Magic

The Orlando Magic have lost four games in a row and have fallen in the standings to 5th in the East at 32-22. Second leading scorer PF Ryan Anderson (sprained right ankle) has already been ruled out of tonight’s contest against the New York Knicks, and All-NBA C Dwight Howard (back spasms) and PG Jameer Nelson (sore left calf) will be game time decisions.

For the proverbial cherry on top of this bad news sundae, head coach Stan Van Gundy announced to news reporters today around noon that his sources within Magic management confirmed the speculation that the 3X reigning Defensive Player of the Year Howard wants Van Gundy fired.

Into this central Florida swirl of injury and uncertainty come the East’s current 8th-seed New York Knicks at 27-27. The Knicks know a little something about key players getting hurt and exiting coaches. Former NY head coach Mike D’Antoni resigned on March 14th as his squad was mired in a six game swoon and his players began shutting him out.

New head coach Mike Woodson has gone 9-3 since he took over, but the Knicks have dropped 2 of their last 3. They’ve also lost starting PG Jeremy Lin for the remainder of the year, and starting PF Amare Stoudemire will be out for at least another week with a bad back.

New York last played on Tuesday at Indiana where they were outscored 40-17 in the fourth quarter and lost 112-104. The Knicks only real go-to guy now is Carmelo Anthony, who drained a season-high 39 in the defeat. With the loss, Spike Lee’s guys are a weak 9-17 away from MSG. In addition, new starting lead guard Baron Davis is playing with a troublesome pulled left hamstring and appears to be ailing and ineffectual.

Orlando last played and lost on Tuesday in Detroit, 102-95. With no Howard, no Nelson and no Anderson, the Magic didn’t have enough to best the 19-33 Pistons. In fact, Orlando allowed the Motor City ballers to shoot 56.6% from the field. It was an opponent best against the Magic this compacted season. The one good piece of news for O-Town was replacement C Glen Davis scoring a career-high 31 points.

Tied up at one win apiece in the season series, tonight’s 48 will be the third and final time these two sides square off in the regular 66. Both teams need a ‘W’ to get back on track and to keep from unraveling down the backstretch. Orlando has to stop their skid, and New York must maintain their perilous position in the Eastern Conference standings to snag the last playoff spot.

Tune in to TNT at 7:00 PM ET to see who will rise to the occasion as this grinding season nears completion.

Gameday Dish: Nets vs. Magic

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.

Fratello Telestrator

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Gameday Dish: Orlando Magic vs. Chicago Bulls

The Orlando Magic and their superstar big man 26-year-old Dwight Howard come to Chi-Town tonight to battle the NBA-best 33-8 Bulls and the reigning league MVP 23-year-old PG Derrick Rose.

With the NBA trading deadline a mere seven days away, all of the ubiquitous, swirling and often divisive trade talk surrounding First-Team All-NBA C Howard will be at max volume for the next week. Will the 25-15 Magic trade their cornerstone as he wishes, or will they play out this shortened season and try to resign him this summer?

The speculation and uncertainty may be taking its toll on Howard’s team. On Tuesday night Orlando lost to the league-worst Bobcats 100-84 after blowing a 20-point lead. In his postgame comments coach Stan Van Gundy questioned their collective desire to compete and improve. Howard had 17 boards and 15 points in the defeat, and the Magic were outscored by Charlotte 28-13 in the fourth quarter.

Coach Tom Thibodeau’s squad leads the NBA in assists per game, rebounds per game and is second in points allowed. On top of that, the Bulls are an impressive 15-2 at the Madhouse on Madison II. In addition, the Second-City Ballers are on a season-high eight-game winning streak after besting the Bucks at the buzzer in Milwaukee last night, 106-104. The all-everything, 4th-year Rose finished with 30 points, 11 dimes and 8 boards and hit the game-winning step-back long 2-point shot with no time remaining.

The Magic have dropped their last four contests against Chicago. A win tonight could change many people’s thinking about the direction of Orlando, most critically Howard’s. It would also be a strong start to a tough stretch of games over the next six days. After tonight, the Magic play Indiana, Miami and San Antonio – all before the 3/15 trading deadline.

As for the Bulls, who sit two games ahead of the Heat in the Eastern Conference, a W would be a great way to kick-off a six-game homestand and stay above the Miami juggernaut in the standings.

Kevin Harlan and I will be teaming up for this evening’s Orlando Magic at Chicago Bulls broadcast at 8:00 PM ET on TNT.

From the Booth

Fratello and Eagle break down the Nets’ performance following Tuesday night’s 108-78 loss to the Miami Heat.