PHILADELPHIA – As Stan Van Gundy put it Saturday, it’s been a “tumultuous” week for the Orlando Magic. Van Gundy’s disclosure on Thursday that he knows Dwight Howard wanted him fired not only produced one of the most awkward moments in recent memory, but has also set off a firestorm of opinion and speculation regarding the future of both the coach and the player.
But while we wonder if either Howard or Van Gundy will be in Orlando next fall, the Magic have to keep playing the games on their schedule. And they have to do it short-handed.
Starting power forward Ryan Anderson has missed the last three games with a sprained ankle. Reserve wing Quentin Richardson has missed four of the last five games with back spasms. And now Hedo Turkoglu is out at least three weeks after surgery to repair facial fractures suffered in Thursday’s loss to the Knicks.
Oh yeah, Howard himself is not 100 percent, still dealing with back issues that kept out of two games earlier this week. After Saturday’s win, he said it’s the most pain he’s been in since he’s been in the league.
So, even if the Magic were able to put the Dwight-and-Stan drama behind them (and at this point, we don’t know that they can), they’ve still got issues to deal with, especially on offense.
Turkoglu’s ability to run the pick-and-roll will be missed. In addition to his playmaking skills, he has the height to see over defenders and find the open man.
“A lot of times,” Van Gundy said Saturday, “even when he wasn’t playing great, at least we could run some offense through him.”
“And then Ryan’s another big one, because I think that the thing we’ve always try to do with Dwight is have a lot of space and spread the floor. And so obviously, he’s a guy that allows us to do that. We don’t really have any way to totally spread the floor right now until we get him back.”
Anderson is expected to return Monday, when the Magic host the Pistons. But for Van Gundy, whether Anderson is playing or not, it’s a challenge to get both Howard and his supporting cast in a rhythm offensively. Generally, Howard needs to be given time to go to work in the post. But his teammates, need ball and player movement to get open looks.
“We spent some time [Friday] talking on, not just on straight post-ups, but when we’re moving the ball, how we have to get him involved in the game,” Van Gundy said. “I think that I haven’t been definitive enough in how to involve him in the game better without slowing down our ball movement.”
Turkoglu’s absence will make it tougher for Howard to flourish offensively. On Saturday against the Sixers, Howard got only a handful of quality looks near the basket, and most of those were on offensive rebounds.
As a team, the Magic shot just 36 percent. But they were able to snap their five game losing streak with defense and rebounding. And Van Gundy couldn’t have been prouder.
“We’ve played some better games,” he said afterward, “but as far as just fighting for a win and executing down the stretch and doing what we had to do, I haven’t felt better about our team all year.”
In the final weeks of the season, as they fight for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the Magic may have to win ugly more often.
In each of the last four seasons, Orlando has ranked in the top five in defensive efficiency. This year, they’ve regressed on that end, ranking 12th entering Saturday. But without Turkoglu, they’ll have to go back to being an elite defensive team that has the ability to win ugly. So Saturday’s win was a step in the right direction.
“That kind of effort and intensity is what it starts with every single night,” Van Gundy said. “Even if the offense is flowing a little better, we’ve got to fight like that every single night.”