At 34 years old, reserve point guard Anthony Johnson is the Orlando Magic's oldest player. He has played for 7 different teams in 11 stops in the NBA. Now in his second stint with Orlando, he has taken on a leadership role, especially to franchise center Dwight Howard, who was 12 years old when Johnson played his first NBA game on November 1st, 1997.
After the Magic defeated the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Conference Semifinals, Howard credited Johnson for helping him focus:
"Anthony Johnson, he talked to me this morning and the thing he told me is that I have to dominate in order for us to win. And it's not about getting shots, but attacking the glass. I think that kind of gets me energized when I attack the glass."
Before tonight's Game 4 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Johnson spoke about his leadership role, especially as it pertains to Howard:
"I've been around. I've been through a lot of games, a lot of experiences, and a lot of situations. I've been on every seat on the bench, from the fifteenth to, you know, maybe the second or third chair when my team really relied on me. I just kind of provide insight and help them handle situations a little bit better than maybe possibly perceived. I'm an older guy, and the bottom line is winning a championship. Any time I see him maybe wavering or a little bit off track I just try to whisper in his ear. I'm not really one of those guys that's 'rah-rah,' all in your face, but, you know, Dwight and I... I'll pull him to the side if I don't agree with something he does and, you know, whisper in his ear. For the most part, he listens and takes it all in stride. I'm just trying to help him become a better player, a better leader, because who knows? I might not be here next year or the year after that. Just some of the things that come about, he could probably handle a little bit better."
On his blog today, Howard wrote that he would approach this game as though it were a Game 7. The Magic have a golden chance to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. I asked Johnson if he agreed with that approach:
"Definitely. Because I think in the past couple of series, we've had opportunities to... against Philadelphia, being 1-1 and letting Game 3 get away and then in Boston being up 2-1 and Big Baby [Glen Davis] hit the game-winning shot, but, uh, you know, those are games that... You know, on our home court, to go up 3-1 or to let them split and go home 2-2... it's a big difference [between] 3-1 and 2-2, so this is a big game. If we can come out, play hard, play well and get a win, being up 3-1 is ten times better than being, than having a series tied at 2-2, with them having home-court advantage."
We'll see if Dwight's Game-7 mentality, and A.J.'s leadership, can get the Magic the 3-1 lead they want tonight. The game tips in 10 minutes.