Saturday , Jan , 13 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Western trip will provide good idea of where Magic stands

(Sports Network) – The Orlando Magic have already proven without a reasonable
doubt that they will be a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference
over the remainder of this season. However, Brian Hill’s blossoming young team
can earn even further respect with a good showing during its current road trip
against four foes from the West.

The Magic got the swing off to a terrific start on Wednesday, taking advantage
of a monster individual performance from manchild Dwight Howard to cruise to a
91-76 win over Golden State.

Howard amassed the first 30-point game of his brief career and pulled down a
season-high 25 rebounds — more than the Warriors’ entire starting five
combined — to almost single-handedly will Orlando to victory. The 21-year-old
leads the NBA with an average of 12.8 rebounds per game and is a virtual lock
to receive the first of what should be many All-Star team selections in the
coming weeks.

The Magic did receive some bad news during the game, however, as forward
Trevor Ariza suffered a grade 2 sprain of the MCL of his right knee late in
the first half, an injury that will sidelined the athletic swingman from 6-
to-8 weeks.

Orlando could have used Ariza, one of the team’s best defenders, when it faced
Kobe Bryant and the Lakers Friday in game two of the trip. Bryant scored 16 of
his 28 points over the game’s final seven minutes as Los Angeles ended the
Magic’s five-game win streak with a hard-fought 109-106 decision.

The fact that Orlando went toe-to-toe with a team it hasn’t beaten as the
visitor in 10 years is encouraging, but the narrow loss also shows the young
Magic are still in the learning stages when it comes to winning on the road.
The team is 8-9 away from home so far in 2007-07, a respectable record but not
one that championships are built on.

Orlando faces another formidable challenge on Saturday when it visits the
Phoenix Suns, owners of the NBA’s second-best overall record at the moment.
The Magic will wrap up the trip Tuesday in Oklahoma City.