NBA

Magic's Bass back just in time for playoff push

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)

Everyone associated with the Magic understands how valuable Brandon Bass has become to the Orlando franchise.

When he walked toward the scorer's table Sunday for his first action since Jan. 31, the sellout Amway Center crowd greeted him with a roar usually reserved for a Dwight Howard dunk.

''It felt good just to get back on the court and to be out there playing with the guys,'' said Bass, who had missed the previous six games with a sprained left ankle before playing in the 89-75 win against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The ovation was a fleeting few seconds in a game that featured far more exciting moments. But for a player that has gone from after thought to being a key cog in the Magic's hopes of reaching the NBA finals, it's appreciation he's longed for.

Bass signed a four-year, $18 million free-agent deal with Orlando last summer after entertaining offers from Chicago, Portland, Charlotte and others. The sixth-year vet's excitement quickly turned to frustration last season, though, when he wound up playing the third-fewest minutes of his career as Rashard Lewis' backup.

But following a pair of blockbuster trades in December that sent Lewis to Washington and left the 6-foot-8 Bass and Anderson as the team's top two power forwards, he has a chance to be an impact player for the first time in his career.

''I'm confident in my role now and happy with how I've been contributing,'' said Bass, 25. ''There's always room for improvement, but I definitely feel like I'm getting involved now.''

Last season Bass appeared in just 50 games, with only three starts. This season he's appeared in 50 of Orlando's 56 games, with 26 starts. His rebounding has more than doubled from 2.5 to 5.7 per game, and his minutes (24.9 mpg) and scoring (11 ppg) have nearly doubled from last season's averages of 13 and 5.8, respectively.

He posted a career-high 27 points on Dec. 3 at Detroit and has also scored in double figures 31 times this season, compared to 11 all of last year.

''Like I said at the time, I think the one thing that the trades showed was the confidence we have in those two guys to be able to play,'' Van Gundy said recently. ''I think it created more opportunity for (Ryan) in particular, but also for Brandon.''

When the 250-pound Bass went down with his ankle injury at the end of January, Van Gundy had no choice but to insert Ryan Anderson into the starting lineup. Anderson had thrived in the weeks after the trade in his role a spark plug off the bench. Though, even Van Gundy acknowledged to reservations about tinkering with his groove.

Anderson had his bright spots during the seven-game stretch, including a 19-point effort against Washington. In the Magic's four wins against the Wizards, Clippers, 76ers and Lakers he played above his season averages, shooting 45 percent from the field and posting 13.2 points per game.

But he also struggled opposite much better starting front lines, averaging 8.6 points and shooting just 35 percent from the floor in losses to Miami, Boston and New Orleans.

Magic center Dwight Howard, who has said repeatedly that he thinks the Magic have the roster makeup to make a run at an NBA title, said he welcomed Bass' return on Sunday against L.A.

''It added another presence for us, in the paint,'' Howard said. ''Another body. We needed another body. I was in foul trouble early so we had to rely on other guys to do a good job in the paint. But we've got the talent to win. We've just got to make sure we do what we did (Sunday), which is play hard for 48 minutes.

Bass only had six points in the Orlando's win, but he provided a much-needed spark for a Magic squad that hadn't beaten team with a winning record since Jan. 8.

He showed pockets of explosion on offense, but his eight rebounds and presence inside freed up Howard (finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds) to operate in more one-on-one situations in the post.

''That's what Brandon can do,'' Anderson said. ''He's a physical presence and he's a strong guy. So he can guard the quick, big guys like Lamar Odom and guard (stronger) guys like Pau Gasol...It's great to have him back.''

It's also why Magic President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith has been steadfast in recent weeks saying that he's not overly concerned with about adding another big man before the Feb. 18 trade deadline.

Along with Bass and Anderson, the Magic do also have reserve forward Malik Allen if need be. Allen has only has only been active a handful of games since his own ankle sprain.

''Our four position, right now, is probably one of our stronger positions on the floor when you take all of them into consideration,'' Smith said. ''Brandon, Ryan and even Earl Clark.

''The way teams scout for you now, they key in on your main guy, which is fine. To have Ryan Anderson beat you is not necessarily what you put in your scouting report. That's not what you're looking for. You're not looking for Ryan to get 20 or for Brandon to get 18.''

Bass said finding continued improvement is his goal going forward.

''We all have to work on playing better and that's something I try to get better at every day,'' Bass said. ''Everything is a work in progress. We'll be all right.''

Tagged: Lakers, Magic, Wizards, Dwight Howard, Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson

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