Will wins persuade Dwight to stay in Orlando?
ORLANDO — If the Orlando Magic beat the Miami Heat
Tuesday night — to complete a three-game, six-day sweep of the best teams in
the Eastern Conference — Dwight Howard might just withdraw his trade request
by Wednesday morning.
If it really is "all about winning," like he has said so often, then
it all becomes pretty simple. And he is starting to see that now.
Lost in the daily speculation about Howard's future, and with the trade
deadline looming Thursday, is the fact that a second victory this season over
Miami will prove the Magic (27-15) are as legitimate as anyone else in East.
And that's all Howard ever said he wanted.
They beat the Bulls in Chicago on Thursday. They buried the Pacers 107-94 in
Orlando on Sunday. And they will face the Heat at Amway Center Tuesday, slowly
turning a rollercoaster season of distraction into a season that could keep him
in a Magic uniform.
"It's great to beat them all now," Howard said after getting 30
points, 13 rebounds and five assists Sunday night against the Pacers. "But
we want to beat them when it counts (in the playoffs). It's all about hitting
your peak at the right time."
He just didn't sound like a man with one foot out the door anymore, which will
give Magic management the confidence to forego the trade before Thursday that
everyone had advised them to do. Howard can become a free agent this summer,
going to the Nets, Mavericks, Lakers or anywhere else he chooses, leaving the
Magic with nothing in return.
Or he could leave them with the greatest coup in franchise history, convincing
him to re-sign right where he is, an option that will happen only if they
become the contender they are starting to be.
"Let's hope this is a trend," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said.
"If you're hitting on all cylinders, you're going to be pretty good."
The Magic moved 12 games above .500 for the first time this season, doing it
without two starters in the lineup. They were without Hedo Turkoglu (one-game
suspension) and Jason Richardson (sprained ankle), but their absence was no
The Magic scored 36 points in the first quarter and led by as many as 24 in the
second. In that first quarter, Howard and J.J. Redick looked like Karl Malone
and John Stockton, repeatedly running a flawless pick-and-roll that Indiana
couldn't handle. Howard and Redick each had four assists in the first 12
minutes, mostly to each other.
The Magic fell asleep just before halftime — like they have done too often this
season — and allowed the Pacers to make a 12-0 run before intermission. But the
Magic quickly recovered in the second half, much like they did against the
Bulls a few days before, a sign of their growth.
"We've been playing better," point guard Jameer Nelson said.
"We're a pretty good team when we can eliminate those lulls. Things have
Nelson just chuckled when he was asked how relieved he will be when the trade
deadline passes. The prospect of Howard being traded, or everyone else on the
roster to get him a more palatable supporting cast, has hung over the franchise
all season. And it hasn't been easy, which has made the recent surge even more
"I'll let you know after it passes," Nelson said.
The Magic internally have split recently regarding what to do in the next few
days with Howard. There is a faction that believes they should deal him now to
get assets in return, a Brook Lopez from the Nets or Andrew Bynum from the
Lakers, for example. There is another faction that wants to let the
season play out, gambling that a great playoff run, along with some offseason
moves, can convince him to stay.
"Enough!" Van Gundy said before Sunday's game, sounding like he has
surrendered. "Thursday, he'll either be here or he won't be. Even Derrick
Rose (of the Bulls said) he has had enough. One way or another, on Thursday
we'll know who we'll have for the rest of the year."
The Magic have talked with Howard several times this season about his future,
as recently as Friday, but they still haven't finalized their decision. Howard
has left the door open, no longer insisting he will leave on his own if they
don't trade him. Yet he still hasn't publicly retracted that trade request.
"I'm just looking forward to the next game right now," he said,
knowing it will be against the Miami Heat, a team that could provide the
impetus in his decision.