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With Howard on board, the Magic think they can beat anyone

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The Magic say they need Hedo Turkoglu to pick up his game if they're going to make a run. (US Presswire)  
The Magic say they need Hedo Turkoglu to pick up his game if they're going to make a run. (US Presswire)  

MIAMI -- The Magic answered their biggest question of the season Thursday when Dwight Howard decided to stay in Orlando. It was a monumental occasion for a franchise clouded in doubt all year about Howard's future.

If this was the offseason we could applaud the Magic, pat Howard on the back and go home and wait to see how this unfolds. But it's not that simple. The Magic now have to refocus and turn their attention back to the court. They have to see if they can win a title this year.

Now, before you snicker, thinking there is no way the Magic can pass the Heat or Bulls in the Eastern Conference or any of the contenders out West, just listen to their argument. It might sway your opinion, and you might give the Magic a chance at a championship.

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Even Heat coach Erik Spoelstra considers the Magic a serious contender now that they kept Howard in the fold.

"Absolutely," Spoelstra said Sunday about Orlando's chances for a championship. "There is no doubt about it. Any time you have an MVP candidate like that and the personnel that fit you're a contender. They're a contender every year that he is there, and they have proven it. They play hard and they present a lot of challenges for you."

The Magic didn't look like much of a contender Sunday against the Heat in a 91-81 loss. Their defense struggled to contain Dwyane Wade (31 points), Chris Bosh (23 points) and LeBron James (14 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists), and Howard had a quiet double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Orlando also got next to nothing from starting forwards Ryan Anderson and Hedo Turkoglu, who combined for seven points and seven rebounds.

Coach Stan Van Gundy complained about the Magic's effort, especially early in the game when the Heat built a 13-point lead before halftime, and the team committed 20 turnovers. The performance didn't sit well with the Magic players either.

"It's time," forward Glen Davis said. "It's time to stop making excuses."

The Magic now have to rebound in a hurry with one of the most difficult back-to-back sets in the NBA against Chicago on Monday. These two games could give Orlando a strong indication of its chances come playoff time. The Magic finished their season series against the Heat 2-2, and they are 1-1 against the Bulls heading into Monday's final matchup.

Howard, content about his decision to stay in Orlando, is now focused on trying to win a championship. He said this team is as good as the Magic squad that reached the NBA finals in 2009 when they lost to the Lakers in five games.

"We have a team that can make a run," Howard said. "I just feel like a lot of guys have to really understand what they can do and what they can bring to the team. We have to do that every night. We don't have to get all the hoopla or whatever. I think teams understand that we have a pretty good team when we play together and play the right way. We just have to do that on a consistent basis."

General Manager Otis Smith also believes in his roster, and he is counting on the players to be accountable and rise to the occasion. With Howard staying, Smith has the centerpiece for a championship team.

Smith said earlier this week that the supporting cast, players like Anderson, Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Jameer Nelson, need to be consistent for the Magic to succeed.

"I like the team we have right now, and that's what we're concentrating on," Smith said. "Can Turk play a little better? Sure. Can J-Rich play a little better? Sure. Jameer has started to play better."

But do the Magic have enough weapons to beat the Heat or the Bulls in the playoffs? Do they even have enough to get out of the first round? Last year, the Magic lost to the Hawks in the first round in six games. Orlando would be the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference if the playoffs started today, which would mean a rematch with No. 6 seed Atlanta. The Magic are 0-2 against the Hawks this year with one final meeting left in April.

Guard J.J. Redick isn't concerned, and he said in a long playoff series that "Stan can go to his lab and scheme, and I like our chances." Nelson agrees with his backcourt mate.

"We can play with anybody," Nelson said. "I think we can beat anybody."

The Magic have 20 games and just about six weeks left of the regular season before they'll find out how long of a playoff run they can make. It would have been a daunting task without Howard, but his decision to remain in Orlando gives the Magic a chance.

They believe they are serious contenders for a championship. Now all they have to do is prove it once the postseason arrives.

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Player News
James Harden added to Rockets' injury report with shoulder
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2:19 pm ET) Rockets SG and MVP candidate James Harden has been added to the team's injury report for Tuesday's game at the Hawks. 

Harden is suffering from a bruised left shoulder. He's listed as probable for the game.  

Harden, a southpaw shooter, is averaging 27.1 points, 6.9 assists and 5.8 rebounds this season. 


Grizzlies upgrade Vince Carter to questionable for Tuesday
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2:15 pm ET) Vince Carter is getting closer to returning to the Grizzlies' lineup. 

Carter has missed the last 12 games with a left-foot tendon injury. The Grizzlies upgraded him to questionable on their injury report for Tuesday's game against the Jazz. 

Carter is averaging 6 points, 1.3 assists and 1.9 rebounds this season. 


Lakers list Nick Young (knee) as questionable for Tuesday's game
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(2:10 pm ET) Lakers guard Nick Young is listed as questionable for Tuesday's game against at Charlotte, reports the Los Angeles Daily News.

Young has missed the last three games with a swollen left knee. In 42 games, Young is averaging 13.4 points and 2.3 rebounds. Guard Wayne Ellington has seen his playing time increase with Young sidelined.


Bulls' Jimmy Butler could miss 3-6 weeks with elbow sprain
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:36 pm ET) An MRI revealed Bulls guard Jimmy Butler suffered an elbow sprain and he could miss three-to-six weeks, the team announced Monday.

Butler injured his elbow during Sunday's game against the Clippers and he was not able to finish the contest, but he will not need surgery.

In 55 games, Butler is averaging 20.2 points and 5.9 rebounds. Froward Tony Snell and guard Kirk Hinrich are expected to see their roles increase with Butler sidelined.

Butler will be evaluated on a weekly basis in the hopes of returning sooner, a source told the Chicago Tribune.


Wizards rule Kris Humphries out of Tuesday's game
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:27 pm ET) Citing a lack of improvement from a groin injury, the Wizards ruled forward Kris Humphries out of Tuesday's game at Chicago, reports The Washington Post.

Tuesday will be the third straight game Humphries has missed because of the groin injury. Forward Drew Gooden will likely see his minutes increase with Humphries out.


Knicks' Jose Calderon (Achilles) to be reevaluated in two weeks
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:20 pm ET) Knicks guard Jose Calderon is wearing a walking boot to protect his sore Achilles and he will be reevaluated in two weeks, reports ESPN New York.

A recent MRI revealed Calderon is dealing with a left Achilles strain. In 42 games, Calderon is averaging 9.1 points and 4.7 assists. Guard Shane Larkin is expected to see his minutes increase with Calderon sidelined.


Wolves list Kevin Martin (illness) as questionable Monday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:05 pm ET) Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin is dealing with an illness and is listed as questionable for Monday's game against the Clippers, the team announced.

In 23 games, Martin is averaging 20.5 points and 2.1 assists. Guard Gary Neal is expected to see his minutes increase if Martin is held out.

The Timberwolves are 5-point underdogs.


Pistons recall Quincy Miller from NBADL
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(12:38 pm ET) The Pistons recalled forward Quincy Miller from the NBA Development League on Monday, the team announced.

In six games this season, Miller is averaging 2.8 points and 2.0 rebounds.


76ers waive center JaVale McGee
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(12:32 pm ET) As expected, the 76ers waived center JaVale McGee on Monday, the team announced.

The 76ers recently acquired McGee in a trade with Denver. Several teams have already expressed interest in signing McGee. Since McGee was officially waived before March 1, he is eligible to play in the playoffs.


Raptors' Kyle Lowry appearing unlikely to play Monday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(12:25 pm ET) While Raptors guard Kyle Lowry has not officially been ruled out of Monday's game at Philadelphia, he is expected to rest so he can recover from a variety of injuries, reports TSN.ca.

Lowry missed Saturday's game to rest several nagging injuries. In 58 games, Lowry is averaging 18.0 points and 7.0 assists. Guard Greivis Vasquez would likely start if Lowry is held out.

The Raptors are 8 1/2-point favorites.


 
 
 
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