Magic have a few tricks up sleeve

Youth, energy — and Howard — give Orlando chance to compete with East's elite

October 23, 2010|By Mark Heisler, Tribune Newspapers

Let me introduce to you, the band you've known for all these years ...

The Magic?

No. 3 in glamour in the Eastern Conference, the new land of titans, it remains to be seen where the Magic will finish in the standings — or, more important, the conference draw.

Nevertheless, the Magic start with several advantages:

They're younger than the Celtics (but who isn't?).

They will have fewer distractions than the Heat (but who won't?).

They have Dwight Howard.

Despite his limited repertoire (righty jump hook, occasional lefty jump hook, dunk) and a once-casual attitude toward the other end, he has been a monster in coach Stan Van Gundy's system.

Of course, there has been give and take, like Howard blurting, "I have to get the ball," after the Game 5 loss in Boston that put the Magic down 3-2 in their 2009 second-round series.

Typically, the Magic came back to win Game 6 in Orlando and Game 7 in Boston.

Last season, with Vince Carter fitting worse the longer he was there, the Magic started 26-15, finished 33-8 and made it back to the East finals.

If teams take their scheme from their coach and their spirit from their star, the Magic are in good shape.

At 24, Howard has missed three games in his six-year career, making up in sheer energy what he lacks in technique.

Meanwhile, even with his biggest, deepest team, Celtics coach Doc Rivers won't let his veterans run white-hot, as they have starting the last three seasons 29-3, 27-3 and 23-5 — a combined 79-11 — before fatigue and injuries became factors.

The Heat's LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are 25, 26 and 28. However, they face a level of distraction as unprecedented as their instant notoriety.

The Heat also is the smallest team of the East elite, but no one may have ever had anything like James, Wade and Bosh.

The Lakers had superstar ensembles, but Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West were 34, 32 and 30, respectively, when they joined up in 1968. Karl Malone was 40 and Gary Payton 35 in 2003 when they joined Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

The Heat aren't likely to win 73 games as commentator Jeff Van Gundy suggested, but they could win a lot.

On the other hand, all three of these teams know the next six months are the skirmish before the storm.

mheisler@tribune.com

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