The Orlando Magic are going on what will probably be one of their tougher stints of the season. Coming fresh off a tough home victory against the revamped New York Knicks, the Magic look to take on the Miami Heat tonight in Miami.
The next day, they move to their first game against the full roster of the hot Chicago Bulls (either Joakim Noah or Carlos Boozer have been out most the season at one time or another).
The Magic then move to face a revamped Portland Trailblazers team with Gerald Wallace for another tough matchup with a Western Conference foe.
The Magic have seemingly been thrown out of the elite by the media surrounding the NBA. Even without the supposed necessary "Big Three" to win a championship, the Magic are sitting strong on the shoulders of Dwight Howard with the fourth slot in the East.
With wins against the second and third seeds in their current stint and a tough Western Conference opponent, the Magic stand to regain their "elite" status and be redeemed by the media.
This is an extremely important regular season moment for the Magic, and will be a true test of Dwight Howard's leadership ability.
No doubt, the Magic have had their share of struggles. The most important of which may turn out to be the loss to the Sacramento Kings on February 24th.
Something changed then.
The Magic have always been a "fun" team, as Howard is one of the most jovial characters in the league. But effort always seemed to be lacking up to this point in the season from players other than Howard. The skill sets for the role players is there, however, it was the effort that was lacking.
Stan Van Gundy has been constantly berating the team for the lack of effort on defense and not playing hard on the offensive side. Van Gundy, one of the premier coaches in the league, can only do so much, though. There has to be some accountability among the players.
Dwight Howard, the same man who accused Van Gundy of being "too hard" on the team sometimes, finally stopped playing around and called his teammates out in front of the nation:
"We've been talking for a long time—all we seem to do is talk," Howard said. "You guys know what the difference is. You watch the games. If guys don't want to play, they need to sit down. We can't just have guys or anybody out there not playing hard."
Since the loss, the Magic have gone on a short three-game win streak, including wins against Oklahoma City and the Knicks. If Dwight Howard accepts his leadership role and starts to hold teammates accountable, then there is no reason why he can't steer his team to victory and bring the streak to six.
This is a true proving ground for the Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard. Howard's stellar play and effort really needs to be complimented by the same effort from his teammates in this stint.
It is time to silence the critics or prove them right.