Well, check that.
In a lot of ways, it has been a nightmare season for the head coach of the Orlando Magic, who has been feuding with his trade-me, don’t-trade-me franchise center, living and dying by the 3-pointer and enduring a soap opera of a year that just keeps coming up with new twists and turns.
But through it all, Van Gundy had maintained enough cool to not be called for a single technical foul.
That was the part of Stan’s season that was perfect, but no more.
Van Gundy was T’d up for arguing a questionable offensive foul on Von Wafer as the Magic played another game without Howard, whose back spasms are now being called a herniated disk in the lower back that will sideline that NBA’s best center indefinitely. The diagnosis was made by Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles, where Howard flew earlier Friday for a second opinion. Howard is scheduled to fly back to Orlando today. Van Gundy says Howard was in pain following the team’s practice Thursday and the coach wasn’t optimistic he’ll be ready to play at Cleveland on Sunday or against Philadelphia on Monday even before his latest diagnosis.
The Magic entered Friday tied for fifth place in the Eastern Conference with Atlanta, though the Hawks hold the head-to-head tiebreaker and took over sole possession of fifth with their 109-81 win.
From Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: ”Are you kidding me?” the Magic’s Glen Davis responded when he was told the news. ”It’s going to be tough without him next couple weeks. A herniated disk? That’s crazy. Dwight isn’t playing, everybody has to step up. Everybody.” The injury to Howard, the reigning three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and the sport’s most dominant center, leaves a gaping void for the Magic. The Magic have lost four of the five games they have played without him this season, including Friday night’s 109-81 defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks. Nowhere is Howard’s absence felt more than at the defensive end of the court. Opponents have shot over 50 percent from the field in four of the five games Howard has missed this season. Without Howard, the Magic struggle to defend the paint, and that deficiency produces a domino effect on other areas of the defense. If players overcompensate to defend drives to the hoop, then it leaves opportunities for opponents’ perimeter players to shoot 3-pointers. … Howard has said he started feeling back pain on March 30. In recent days, both he and Magic officials insisted that he had no structural damage to his back. On Thursday afternoon, after he participated in practice and the pain returned, he was asked specifically whether he had been assured there was no disk problem. ”There’s no disk problems,” he answered. But Howard was concerned enough that he and his agent, Dan Fegan, sought a second medical opinion. Those concerns led them to Watkins.
The Magic have now dropped to sixth place in the Eastern Conference, three games ahead of the Knicks (who had an easy home win) and the Sixers (who had an abysmal home loss).
In the West, the Suns have risen to ninth place, one game behind Houston and Denver (tied at 32-27), after Phoenix defeated Houston 112-105, the Nuggets lost to the Lakers 103-97, and the Jazz lost 96-85 at New Orleans to tumble to 10th.
The Suns victory gave them a split of the season series with Houston, leaving a potential tiebreaker between the two to come down to conference records. Phoenix is 21-20 against the West, and Houston is 21-21.
From Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic: Houston center Marcus Camby posted 10 points, 18 rebounds and four assists in the first half, but Camby did not have another rebound after that. Marcin Gortat nearly caught Camby, finishing with 15 rebounds and scoring 20 in a pick-and-roll frenzy. It was his fifth 20-point, 15-rebound game after he took the brunt of Gentry’s halftime rage for Camby’s first half. ”We were down four, not down 40,” Gortat said. “We just got yelled at. We came out harder. Let’s say the first half was just a warm-up. We came out prepared, and Houston relaxed a little bit. More important, the Suns caught the Rockets quickly in the third quarter. Gortat scored eight of the Suns’ first 18 third-quarter points to take the lead, and then the defense made it stand once Grant Hill entered the game as a reserve in his first game back from arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago. Houston trailed 69-67 before missing nine of its final 10 shots of the third quarter. The Suns took an 81-69 lead to the fourth when Hill made a jumper for his first points and Steve Nash hit a one-footed running jumper. The lead grew to as much as 16 with 5:46 to go.”
The Suns play five of their final seven games at home, but their slate includes matchups with the Spurs (twice), the Thunder, the Clippers and the Nuggets (who lead the season series 2-0).
In the East, the Milwaukee Bucks are still in the playoff picture after defeating Detroit 113-97 while the Sixers were suffering a 95-89 loss to the New Jersey Nets.
The Bucks are two games behind Philadelphia, which will play six of its final seven on the road. The biggest of those could come on the next-to-last night of the regular season when the teams, tied 1-1 in their season series, play at Milwaukee.
“I’m just at a loss, I really am,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said after his team shot just 1-for-10 on 3-pointers and surrendered 23 points to Gerald Green and 18 points and 14 rebounds to Kris Humphries.
Elsewhere in the NBA on a night with 12 games on the slate:
- Dwyane Wade (ankle) sat out again but is expected to play Sunday in New York, and the Heat didn’t need him in crushing the Charlotte Bobcats 105-82. The Bobcats have lost 15 in a row. Miami improved to 11-1 in Wade’s absence, bouncing back from an overtime loss to the Bulls the previous night.
- Andrew Bynum had 30 points and eight rebounds, Matt Barnes added a season-high 24 points and 10 rebounds, and the Lakers clinched a playoff berth. The Lakers (38-22) have won three of four without Kobe Bryant while the NBA scoring leader rests his bruised shin. Los Angeles also played without coach Mike Brown, who left Staples Center shortly before tipoff for undisclosed personal reasons.
- Dirk Nowitzki had 24 points and nine rebounds, Delonte West added 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds, and Mavericks nearly lost a 24-point lead in a 97-94 win over Portland. Wes Mathews hit a meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer to infuriate “The Picker,” who went 3-1-1.
- Eric Gordon scored 10 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, and New Orleans won its first game under prospective new owner Tom Benson, 96-85 over Utah. Chris Kaman added 19 points as the Hornets won for the third time in four games.
- Baron Davis scored a season-high 18 points on his 33rd birthday, J.R. Smith had 23, and the Knicks routed the Washington Wizards 103-65 for their ninth straight home victory.
- Durant led Oklahoma City with 29 points and nine rebounds, and Westbrook scored 22 — none more impressive than his right-handed jam that was the highlight of an 18-2 run just before halftime of a 115-89 victory over Sacramento.
- DeMar DeRozan scored 13 of his 22 points in the third quarter and made four pivotal free throws down the stretch as the short-handed Toronto Raptors, playing without Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon, surprised the Boston Celtics 84-79.
- George Hill had 15 points and seven assists to help the Indiana Pacers clinch a playoff spot by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 102-83. Indiana has won all three games Hill has started since Darren Collison was sidelined with an injury.