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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
Byron Scott getting close to finalizing starting five
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/10/2014) Lakers coach Byron Scott told the Los Angeles Daily News Wednesday he has penciled in four of the five spots for the team's starting lineup, with only the small forward spot left the fill.

Scott plans to start Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill together this season, with Wesley Johnson or Nick Young being considered for the small forward spot. That means rookie Julius Randle and newly acquired guard Jeremy Lin will come off the bench, and he is leaning toward bring Nick Young off the bench as well.


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by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9/6/2014) The Clippers are close to signing forward Hedo Turkoglu, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The deal would last one year, worth $1.4 million. Turkoglu was limited to only 38 games and averaged 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds last season with the Clippers. He shot 38.5 percent from the field and 44.0 percent from behind the arc over that span.

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Rondo is entering the final year of his deal of his contract and is expected to be fully healthy heading into the start of the 2014-15 season. He was limited to only 30 games last season because of his recovery from a torn ACL. He averaged 11.7 points, 9.8 assists and 1.3 rebounds while shooting 62.7 percent from the field and 28.9 percent from downtown over that span.


Chris Singleton catches on with the Pacers
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Wayne Ellington waived by Sacramento
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(9/6/2014) The Kings waived guard Wayne Ellington on Wednesday. Ellington was acquired by Sacramento as part of a four-player trade with the Knicks early August. 

Clippers sign Chris Douglas-Roberts, Ekpe Udoh
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(9/6/2014) The Clippers have signed power forward Ekpe Udoh and guard Chris Douglas-Roberts Wednesday. Both players signed a minimum contract worth approximately over $1 million.

Udoh averaged 3.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in 42 games last season for Milwaukee. Douglas-Roberts averaged 6.9 points and 2.4 rebounds in 49 games with Charlotte last season.

Mavericks bring back Bernard James
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(9/6/2014) The Mavericks are bringing back Bernard James. He signed a one-year contract with the team on Wednesday. The third-year center averaged 2.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 7.9 minutes in 76 career games (11 starts) with Dallas.

Raptors ink Greg Stiemsma to one-year contract
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(9/6/2014) The Raptors signed center Greg Stiemsma to a one-year, $1 million contract. Stiemsma registered career bests of in rebounds (4.1) and minutes (18.3) per game last season with New Orleans. In 55 games (20 starts) he averaged only 2.9 points.

76ers acquire, then waive Hasheem Thabeet
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(9/6/2014) The 76ers acquired center Hasheem Thabeet from the Thunder in exchange for a 2015 protected second round draft pick. The team also received cash considerations from Oklahoma City. Thabeet was immediately waived by Philadelphia. 

Mike Scott stays put with the Hawks
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9/6/2014) Restricted free agent forward Mike Scott agreed to a three-year, $10 million contract with the Hawks. He has the first two years of his deal guaranteed, with a team option in the third year, per the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Scott had a productive 2013-14 campaign, averaging 9.6 points and 3.6 rebounds in 18.5 minutes per game. 

 
 
 
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