Last Saturday night in Milwaukee, the Orlando Magic were slogging their way through their fourth game in six nights, trailing the Bucks by six at the half, when a fan hollered out, “Hey Richardson, you’re washed up!”
The object of the fans ridicule was Jason Richardson, Orlando’s 31-year-old shooting guard, who at the time had scored all of three points. Sparked by the taunt, Richardson proceeded to dump in 28 second-half points, including a barrage of eight 3-pointers, on the Bucks, leading the Magic to a come-from-behind victory.
You can call Richardson whatever you like. Just don’t call him “washed up.”
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After a slow start, precipitated by a sore left knee, J-Rich is back to playing basketball the way he’s been playing it for the past 10 years. In February, the Magic’s starting 2-guard is averaging a healthy 17.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 49 percent from the field and a whopping 55 percent from beyond the arc.
About the same time Richardson’s game began to return to form, another Magic player who many may have believed to have been in Richardson’s “washed up” category, point guard Jameer Nelson, also started coming around.
Nelson struggled in December and January, then suffered a concussion in a game against New Orleans. But since returning, as if the injury kicked on some kind of reset button inside Jameer’s head, the team captain has regained his form, averaging 12.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, including a 3.8-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Suddenly the Magic, a team counted out by many because of the struggles of Nelson and Richardson, and the uncertainty of Dwight Howard’s future with the franchise, are playing their best basketball of the season.
The ball is moving, and as a result, assists are up and turnovers are down (averaging 21.3 assists to 14 turnovers in February), and the 3-pointers are falling (more than 12 made per game in February).
The Magic defense, anchored by Howard, is stifling: Opponents are shooting 41.8 percent from the field in February.
The team, it seems, is a lot like Richardson and Nelson: Written off too early. For the first six weeks of the season, the Magic struggled to find their footing as one of the top squads in the Eastern Conference. Now, things appear to be coming together.
The key for the future, obviously, is what happens with Dwight Howard. Magic fans are hoping the game’s best big man doesn’t become that most rare individual, the one who moves from Orlando to New Jersey (or to any other locale for that matter).
But if he stays, there’s no reason why Orlando, which when at its best is as good as any team in the East, can’t bring some Magic back to Central Florida deep into the postseason.