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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
Report: Rockets' Beverley (wrist) to have season-ending surgery
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:39 pm ET) Rockets guard Patrick Beverley has chosen to undergo season-ending surgery on his injured wrist, a source told the Houston Chronicle.

By choosing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his wrist, Beverley will not be available to play for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs.

Guard Jason Terry has been starting in place of Beverley and is expected to receive more minutes along with guard Pablo Prigioni.


Pelicans F Ryan Anderson (knee) expected to play during road trip
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:33 pm ET) With the Pelicans embarking on a three-game road trip starting Wednesday against the Lakers, coach Monty Williams said forward Ryan Anderson is expected to play at some point during the road trip, reports The Times-Picayune.

Anderson has been sidelined since Feb. 21 with a sprained knee. In 52 games, Anderson is averaging 14.6 points and 5.1 rebounds.


Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (back) ruled out of Monday's game
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(12:46 pm ET) A lingering back issue will keep Raptors guard Kyle Lowry out of Monday's game against the Rockets, reports TSN.ca.

Back spasms have caused Lowry to miss four out of the last five games. Guard Greivis Vasquez has been starting in Lowry's place.

The Raptors are 2-point favorites.


Report: Hawks' Teague and other starters are likely to play Monday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(12:16 pm ET) After sitting the entire starting lineup for Saturday's contest, the Hawks will most likely be starting Jeff Teague and the other regular starters for Monday's game against the Bucks, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Along with Teague, the Hawks also rested forwards Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll, guard Kyle Korver and center Al Horford on Saturday. With the team also playing Tuesday at Detroit, the starters are expected to rest then.


Hornets center Al Jefferson gets fluid drained from knee
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:45 am ET) Hornets center Al Jefferson recently had fluid drained from his left knee to help alleviate the soreness Jefferson has been experiencing, reports The Charlotte Observer.

It was the second time in a week Jefferson had fluid drained from the knee. Jefferson was only able to play 17 minutes during Saturday's win over the Hawks and scored just two points.


Clippers forward Blake Griffin dealing with sore elbow
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:39 am ET) After banging his elbow on the court while diving for a loose ball during Sunday's game, Clippers forward Blake Griffin said he was feeling discomfort in the elbow, reports the Orange County Register.

"[It's] a little swollen, a little sore, but OK," Griffin said.

Griffin was sidelined for five weeks after getting a staph infection removed from his elbow. Griffin has played the last eight games since returning from the injury.


Hornets expect center Cody Zeller (shoulder) to play Monday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:29 am ET) Hornets center Cody Zeller was able to participate in shootaround and is expected to play in Monday's against the Celtics, the team announced.

"We'll wait and see how he is, but he's going to try and play," coach Steve Clifford said, per The Charlotte Observer. "He wasn't grimacing or anything [when he shoots] the way he had been. He looked to me a lot better."

Zeller has missed the last five games with a shoulder injury. In 62 games, Zeller is averaging 7.6 points and 5.8 rebounds.

The Hornets are 3-point favorites.


Lakers coach Byron Scott says Jordan Hill can 'play harder'
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:24 am ET) Although Lakers coach Byron Scott praised forward Jordan Hill's effort and ability during Sunday's loss to the Nets, Scott said Hill could still reach another intensity level, reports the Los Angeles Daily News.

"I still think he can play harder," Scott said. "That's one thing I'm a little disappointed in. From last year on the outside looking in, I thought he was a real energy guy. I don't think he is that right now. But he has to get to that point."

Hill sat out the previous three games as a healthy scratch to give younger players more of an opportunity and Scott said Hill was one of the few players to play well Sunday.

"Without him [Sunday], we probably don't even get this close," Scott said.


Pacers forward Paul George still waiting for medical clearance
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:11 am ET) Despite feeling that he has passed all the medical tests in order to play, Pacers forward Paul George is still waiting to be cleared by the team's medical staff before returning to game action, reports Yahoo Sports.

George has not played this season after suffering a compound fracture in his leg last summer. While George must be cleared medically before returning, he is hopeful to make his return soon.


Wolves' Neal, Garnett, Pekovic are unlikely to play Monday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:05 am ET) The Timberwolves are listing guard Gary Neal (ankle), forward Kevin Garnett (knee) and center Nikola Pekovic (ankle) as doubtful for Monday's game against the Jazz, reports NBA.com.

The Timberwolves are 4 1/2-point underdogs.


 
 
 
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