Howard’s Title Prophecy Taking Form For Magic

June 1st, 2009 by admin

ORLANDO — Dwight Howard was all muscle and might Saturday, almost single-handedly crushing the Cleveland Cavaliers and rarely resembling the player whom Sports Illustrated thought might be too silly to win an NBA title.

After scoring a career-playoff-high 40 points and grabbing 14 rebounds to help get the Magic to the NBA Finals opposite Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, the Orlando Magic’s superstar center allowed himself a moment of emotional reflection.

With a towel strategically draped over his head along the bench, Howard had tears gushing from his eyes.

The 6-11, 268-pound mountain of a man was turned to mush as his Magic were closing out the Eastern Conference finals. An avalanche of emotion hit Howard when he thought how far the Orlando franchise has come in his five NBA seasons.

“I can remember coming to games and nobody is in the stands until we play Kobe or LeBron (James). Now, the stands are always filled up,” he said after the signature game of his career that helped the Magic win 103-90.

“I think we’ve started to bring back some magic in Orlando, and that’s one of the goals I set out to do when I first got here. We were a laughingstock around the league (in 2004). Everybody played the Magic and they thought about Disney World. I just wanted to change that. We as a team wanted to change that. I think we’ve done it.” ¶

The Magic are back playing for a championship 14 years after Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Nick Anderson and Horace Grant were swept by the Houston Rockets in 1995.

Orlando got Howard with the first pick in 2004 after going 21-61 in 2003-04, a dismal season that featured a 19-game losing streak. But since he has joined the Magic, he has talked about bringing a championship to Orlando and making the Magic relevant nationally.

When Howard boasted last summer in China to his USA Basketball teammates, many scoffed. Now, Howard is laughing the loudest.

“Everybody since I have been here has always written us off,” said Howard, this season’s defensive player of the year and a first-team All-NBA selection. “I believe in my team, and I believe if we come out every night and play our brand of basketball that we’ll win.”

The Magic have won primarily because they have Howard but also because of several key players positioned around him.

The support provided by multitalented forwards Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu, relative newcomers Rafer Alston and Mickael Pietrus and rookie Courtney Lee helped the Magic easily eliminate a Cleveland team that was far too dependent on James.

“You need a total team effort to win,” said Lewis, who was lured to Orlando two summers ago with a $118 million contract.

“LeBron is a great player, and (the Cavs) have a good team. But at the same time, you need more than one or two guys. You need more than five guys. And you need a good coach. It’s a combination of a little bit of everything, and I just feel like we’ve got that here in Orlando.”

Orlando was an underdog in the second round against the defending champion Boston Celtics but prevailed even on the famed parquet floor in Game 7.

As much of the basketball world clamored for a Kobe-LeBron Finals and ESPN’s highlights were inundated with commercials and documentaries about the sport’s two biggest stars, the Magic quietly shocked Cleveland. Including the playoffs and regular season, Orlando beat Cleveland six of nine times.

The Magic were one of two teams to beat the Lakers in two meetings this season, winning 106-103 on Dec. 20 in Orlando and 109-103 on Jan. 16 in Los Angeles. Orlando has won in Los Angeles each of the past two seasons, a first in franchise history.

One Response

  1. Tom Stanley

    I was on Yahoo and found your blog. Read a few of your other posts. Good work. I am looking forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Tom Stanley

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