Loss would be tragic for Magic

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:26 PM ET

TORONTO - One game into one playoff series and already there’s talk of the Magic turning tragic.

One loss and Central Florida finds itself in the throes of a basketball crisis that threatens to get completely out of hand if Orlando doesn’t win Tuesday’s Game 2 and if the team doesn’t go on to defeat the Atlanta Hawks.

A lot, naturally, could happen. Orlando’s vaunted three-point threat may actually begin to make shots, someone other than Dwight Howard or Jameer Nelson may actually post points, but so much could be undone if the Magic don’t get its house in order.

The focal point will always be Howard as long as Superman decides to make Orlando his hoops home, but the more the Magic fails to capitalize on any opportunity the more the concern grows over Howard’s long-term future.

Billboards have been erected in Orlando imploring Howard not to exercise an option to become a free agent next summer, internet campaigns pleading for his staying have been initiated, but at the end of the day winning will decide Howard’s path.

As it enters Tuesday night’s tip, the Magic is in a must-win proposition against an Atlanta team that basically allowed Howard to score at will in Game 1 by playing the imposing centre straight up and not coming with any help defence.

It’s a strategy as old as the game itself, a defensive philosophy teams often use when going up against one dominant opponent.

In theory, you allow the superstar to get his points, but you don’t allow others to get theirs.

In Orlando’s case, Howard and Nelson produced 73 of the team’s 93 points.

Combined, Howard and Nelson would make 26 of 41 shots. The rest of the team went a combined 8-of-34 from the field.

Jason Collins, Zaza Pachulia, Etan Thomas and Josh Powell took turns defending Howard, who scored 46 points, a playoff-career high for the product of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, and recorded 19 rebounds.

“I could have scored 100 points and we still could have lost, so it’s not about me,” Howard said.

It is and isn’t about Howard.

It is because the big guy has to keep his cool and avoid taking technicals out of frustration. Twice during the regular season, Howard had to sit out two games when he exceeded the technical threshold of 15 tees.

In the post-season, players are forced to sit one game after picking up their seventh tee.

The Magic may not last long enough for Howard to grapple with that dilemma, but his teammates simply must step up.

No player faces more scrutiny entering Game 2 than Hedo Turkoglu, whose game has not been revitalized when his second go-round in Orlando was completed following an early season trade with Phoenix.

Turkoglu was one of the key catalysts behind Orlando’s run to the NBA final two springs ago, his game reaching such a high level that he cashed in on free agency when he landed in Toronto after spurning Portland.

The security that only comes with a big, fat contract has clearly affected the affable Turkoglu.

If he continues to put up 2-of-9 shooting games and shows no aggression in initiating his offence, he’ll have one big, fat egg on his face.

“Turk has to take shots,’’ said Magic GM Otis Smith, who has made some rather bold moves and spent a lot of money to surround Howard. “He has be a more aggressive scorer than a more aggressive passer, and he didn’t do that (in Game 1).”

“I think we have to, from the get-go, just try to be more aggressive and just look for our shots and try to get ourselves involved,” Turkoglu said. “Dwight was unbelievable, and Jameer, he kept having it in the third quarter (pouring in 20 points), so it wasn’t really pretty much (possible) for other guys to get in their rhythms.

“I was turning the corner looking to pass too much, trying to get my teammates involved. I have to just read those situations and just take what is best.

“If it’s still that drive and kick, I’ll still do it. If there’s a wide-open shot, I’ve just got to take those shots and get myself in a rhythm, too.”

It sounds all good and so easy, but now comes the hard part of executing it.

If not, the guillotine may soon await.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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