Congratulations are in order for Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, whom the NBA named its Eastern Conference Player of the Week:
Howard led Orlando to a 3-0 record, averaging 23.7 points on .614 shooting from the field, 14.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks for the Magic, which clinched its second consecutive Southeast Division title. During Orlando's 84-82 win over Boston on March 25, Howard posted 24 points, 21 rebounds and four blocks. Orlando owns a half-game lead on Boston in the race for the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
But he took home some actual hardware over the weekend--Player of the Week Awards do not come with swag--as the Magic named Howard this year's winner of the Rich and Helen DeVos Community Enrichment award.
Dwight's greatness last week indeed put Orlando in great position for the playoffs, but that's fleeting, and the picture can change at any time. Here, Brian Schmitz highlights important games remaining for Eastern Conference teams as the playoffs approach.
Orlando's chief concern might be avoiding Detroit, as Henry Abbott writes:
The Orlando Magic have had a far better season than the Detroit Pistons, and will be heavily favored no matter who they face in the first round.
But if they had their pick (and maybe one day soon they will) you'd have to assume they would not pick a team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year and has won three straight against them this season.
Here's my question for you, as we watch the season's final few games: Which top teams might be hoping to avoid certain lower-ranked teams?
As our very own erivera7 noted, Howard would actually relish the opportunity to play the Pistons. One would figure Detroit wants to play Orlando, yet Pistons forward/Magic-killer extraordinaire Antonio McDyess advises caution:
"Even though Orlando [doesn't] want to see us, how much can you really beat a team? Eventually they say, 'Hey, enough is enough.' I feel they're more dangerous than anyone we could play. You can only beat a team so much before the tables turn."
If Orlando indeed meets Detroit in the playoffs, the circumstances will prove McDyess wrong, because the Pistons would stand a great chance of pulling off the "upset," although one wonders if their victory could honestly be termed as such. Not that McDyess would mind.
But that's looking ahead quite a bit. Two prominent NBA writers have their sights set on tonight's matchup between the Magic and the Miami Heat. Kelly Dwyer calls it tonight's Game To Pay Attention To:
This always seems to be a good game. The Heat are trying to keep that fifth slot in the Eastern Conference all to themselves. Philadelphia grabbed it for a spell last week, but they've dropped two close ones since, and that first round pairing with Atlanta is Miami's for the taking.
You know Orlando's drill. A half-game up on the Celtics, who may or may not have Kevin Garnett to lean on in every game for the rest of the season.
...while Bethlehem Shoals lists it in his weekly NBA digest. Here's his assessment of the Magic:
Dwight Howard has no post game, can't score late, and is troubled by swarms of smaller players. The rest of the team just shoots threes. Rafer Alston's replaced the injured Jameer Nelson for the long haul. But as of right now, Orlando's second to Cleveland in the East standings, having passed (and beaten) the Celtics on Wednesday. Garnett is back, but sore, and time is running out for the Celtics to prove they're the rightful runner-ups in the conference. Also, anyone else notice the steady increase in Stan Van Gundy's swagger?
So everyone looks ready to enjoy tonight's game. Everyone except possibly Courtney Lee, who will be charged with guarding Dwyane Wade, Miami's MVP "candidate" (note: LeBron James ran away with this award in January, but the media need to stir up some sot of drama, so they mention Wade whenever possible) shooting guard. In its 2008 re-draft, The Puns Are Starting To Bore Me finds that the Philadelphia 76ers would manage to snatch Lee with the 16th pick to shore-up their weak shooting guard rotation. The Magic end up with Ryan Anderson, projected to be a better version of Brian Cook as a three-point-shooting specialist at the power forward position.
We'll bump the Heat/Magic GameThread back to the top of the page as tipoff approaches.