Orlando looks to recapture the Magic after break

BY foxsports • February 16, 2010

Stan Van Gundy is all but conceding the Eastern Conference's top seed to Cleveland.

Just not the title.

The Orlando Magic return after the All-Star break to play Detroit on Wednesday still struggling with continuity and consistency, 0-2 against the Cavaliers and a roster shakeup in the offseason - most notably the trade for Vince Carter - showing mixed results.

Yet they're confident as ever that the pieces for a championship are in place. And that there's no need for another major move with the trade deadline approaching because they believe nobody in the league - not even Cleveland's LeBron-Shaq combo - can create the same sort of lineup nightmares.

``I don't think we have a real matchup problem,'' Van Gundy said Tuesday.

Time will tell.

Even after a rocky first half filled with major injuries, illnesses and suspensions the Magic are healthier and in better position in the standings than they were a year ago en route to the NBA finals. Their bench is deeper. Their experience has grown.

But are they actually better?

The Magic went all-in for a title this season by making the trade for Carter from New Jersey, parting ways with Hedo Turkoglu - a 6-foot-10 point forward who gave Cleveland fits - and sending Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston to the Nets.

Carter, much like the Magic, has been dazzling one minute and disappointing the next. The eight-time All-Star showed flashes of his old self earlier this month after shooting a mere 28 percent in January, a big reason Orlando slumped.

Magic general manager Otis Smith has said all along that it's no time to panic - the playoffs are when his roster-reshaping moves will be judged.

``We finished the regular season third in the East last year. And we're second in the East now,'' Smith said. ``We can't come to the conclusion without coming to the end. It's kind of hard to say midseason it's this, that or the other.''

One goal the Magic are starting to give up on is home-court advantage.

While they're 6-1 against Boston and Atlanta and second in the conference, they're seven games behind Cleveland. Van Gundy has done the math. With 28 games left for Orlando, he said it's ``not really'' likely to get the No. 1 seed.

``To be honest, they'd really have to go into a little bit of a tailspin, because you're looking at having to make up one game every four,'' he said. 'If they even played .500, you'd have to go 21-7, and the chances of them only playing .500 are pretty slim.''

The Magic's schedule is favorable.

They have only 12 road games left, already made their two big West Coast trips and have just four games on back-to-back days left - something they've struggled with this season.

Orlando is counting on its continuity building to be its strength.

Rashard Lewis missed 10 games serving a suspension after testing positive for a banned substance. Jameer Nelson, who was out last year with a shoulder injury before returning in the finals, had arthroscopic left knee surgery and missed about a month. Vince Carter has learned to cope with a slight left shoulder separation that sidelined him for a couple weeks before his shooting slump.

They're all back now.

``We can still win the NBA championship,'' Lewis said. ``It's just getting the chemistry together. That's why you have the regular season. You get better during the season, get your chemistry together.''

After starting 17-4, Orlando attributed much of its struggles over the last few months to the constant roster shuffling. The Magic have won 10 of their last 13 games before the break, beginning to blend all that talent.

They realize time for excuses is running out.

``This is our chance. This is the last 28 games and we need to make that push for playoff positioning,'' Carter said. ``We want to try to play our best basketball going right into the playoffs. This is the time.''

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