Magic trudging on despite being hit by injuries
Last month, before his team embarked on a pivotal stretch against several of the league's top squads, Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said he was content playing 10 guys before deciding how to pare down his playoff rotation.
With six games to play, though, Van Gundy simply hasn't had that option anymore.
''I couldn't play 10 guys if I wanted to right now,'' he said after his team's final practice Saturday before traveling to Toronto on Sunday. ''It's sort of crazy right now.''
Over the past several weeks, sixth-man J.J. Redick, backup point guards Gilbert Arenas and Chris Duhon, and forward Quentin Richardson have all missed time because of injury or illness.
Redick has missed 11 straight games with a lower abdominal strain. Duhon has been out the last two games with a ligament strain in his right thumb. Arenas played five consecutive games after resting a sore left calf and knee, but has missed two games in a row with an illness. And Richardson is back on the floor, but recently missed three games with back spasms.
The Magic will have only nine players for the third straight game Sunday.
It's resulted in more questions marks around an already perplexing Magic team in their final push before the postseason.
''The only thing for us that has been tough is that we haven't had the same guys out, so it's been hard to get into any type of rhythm,'' Van Gundy said. ''We go into New York and we have Gil and Chris, but we don't have Jameer (Nelson). Then we go to Atlanta and we don't' have Chris or Q, but we've got Jameer and Gil. Then we go into (Friday) night and we don't have Gil or Chris, but we have Q back.
''So it's really hard to get into any kind of playing rotation,'' he said, ''and consistency in the way you play. And I think that's shown up in the way we play.''
What is pretty much a forgone conclusion is that the Magic are snugly in the No. 4 spot in the East and will likely meet division-mate Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs.
And despite a tough stretch in March, when the Magic went 9-6 with a schedule the featured 10 games on the road, there are glimmers of progress since the All-Star break.
The Magic are fourth in the NBA in overall opponents' field-goal percentage, allowing teams to shoot just 43.6 percent. And after some early struggles, starting forward Hedo Turkoglu is starting to show flashes of the offensive threat that helped the Magic reach the NBA Finals in 2009. Over the past 13 games, Turkoglu is averaging 15.4 points and 5.3 assists.
Magic center Dwight Howard, who believes Orlando has the pieces to make a Finals run this year, said the recent injury bumps can't be a crutch.
''Just be consistent and play hard every night,'' Howard said. ''When we went to the Finals, we were exhausted. We had put so much in and I don't think we had anything. But that's not an excuse for why we lost. We've been there once and we want to get back.''
The one piece, of course, that the Magic can't allow anything to happen to is Howard. Van Gundy was able to get him some rest in the second half Friday night against Charlotte, but said he probably won't let Howard sit out an entire game before the playoffs.
''It would probably just be a reduction of minutes,'' Van Gundy said. ''If I did ever sit anybody down it would mostly likely be on the second night of a back-to-back or something like that. I won't rest him on the last night. That one, to me, doesn't make any sense. He may not play huge minutes, depending on the situation, but (the starters) are going to need to play.''
In the meantime, getting healthy remains the priority.
Arenas won't make the trip with the team Sunday, and the earliest Duhon will return is next week. Redick will meet the team in Canada, but is still day to day.
Van Gundy would like to have all three healthy as soon as possible, but healthy or not, Arenas' situation may be the most troublesome. Before his latest ailment, he told reporters that he still wasn't 100 percent jumping off his surgically repaired knee. It's shown up in his performance; he has connected on just eight of his last 38 shots.
''That doesn't surprise me. I think anybody who watches him can tell physically he's not where he needs to be,'' Van Gundy said. ''With a guy like him, he can't go twice in one day.''
To that end, Van Gundy said he'll try to limit how hard Arenas goes in practices coming off games once he is able to return
For now, though, the Magic will trudge on with whomever they have in a uniform.
''Obviously we want to get everybody healthy and everybody back,'' forward Ryan Anderson said. ''These are important games. ... Regardless if we have guys that are injured or who are out, we need to keep improving on the things we need to work on.''