Dec 31, 2001 11:11 AM EST
It was frustrating, and it could have become downright discouraging.
Brendan Haywood's introduction to professional basketball was a rude one, one he had little reason to expect after ending his college career at North Carolina last spring.
First, Haywood fell far below projections in the draft before finally being taken with the 20th pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was traded that same night to Orlando. Then, he was traded again later in the summer, this time to the hapless Washington Wizards. And shortly into training camp, he tore ligaments in his left thumb and was sidelined for six weeks.
Some welcome to the NBA, indeed.
But instead of moaning and groaning and dwelling on his misfortune, Haywood chose to chuckle a little instead.
Now that ability to take things in stride is paying off, and he's starting to get the last laugh.
He is playing a significant role for the Wizards, the team that is the biggest surprise in the NBA, and he is establishing himself as one of the better young big men in the league.
"Things are going pretty well right now," Haywood said before the Wizards' 107-90 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night. "I have a ways to go to get where I want to be, and I want to continue to improve every day, but overall I'm pretty happy. A lot of things that went against me earlier are turning out to be a blessing in disguise."
Haywood's sense of humor has been a key element all along.
"Things didn't start out like I hoped they would," he said. "But I kept everything as lighthearted as I could. When I got here, some of the guys started calling me Don MacLean because I was being traded so many times, so we all just kinda laughed and joked about it.
"The fact is, I was happy to be traded from Cleveland. I wanted them to trade me, so that didn't bother me at all. I was surprised when I was traded from Orlando, but I came here and I had a good workout so I thought this would be a good fit for me. As it turns out, it is probably a better fit for me than Orlando would have been."
Haywood has averaged 7.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.13 blocked shots in 17 games since coming off the injured list, playing 26 minutes a game as the backup center to Jahidi White.
Haywood's numbers have been far-more impressive in the past few weeks, and he has been a significant reason why the Wizards have won 10 of their past 12.
He scored 19 recently in a win at Dallas and followed with 17 points and 15 rebounds in a victory at Memphis.
"He's made a big difference since he's come back," said Johnny Bach, the former Hornets' assistant coach now with the Wizards. "He and Tyronn Lue are probably the two biggest reasons we've turned things around. We thought he was the best young big man we had in training camp. Then he got hurt, but he's picked up right where he left off before his injury."
After Haywood had 18 points and 11 rebounds against Orlando earlier in the year, Doc Rivers admitted to Bach that the Magic was already regretting dealing Haywood.
"He said, 'We made a big mistake letting that guy go,' " Bach said. "And they did. He's going to have a long career in this league. He plays big. He's tall and lanky, and he reminds me a lot of Robert Parish with those long arms and everything. And he's got the fundamentals already, which not a lot of young big men have anymore. You put him next to Kwame (Brown), and it's just obvious how much he benefited from four years in a good college program."
Haywood's UNC ties are helping in another sense. It turns out that Haywood has become Michael Jordan's pet project this season.
And to have Jordan take a personal interest has to be a great motivating factor.
"That's been good for me," Haywood said. "He just tells me the little things I need to do to be a player. A lot of guys are good enough to play in this league, but they lack the little things, and those are the things he concentrates on because he wants me to have a long career.
"It's one of those things where when Michael Jordan says something to you, you know it's the truth. He's the greatest of all time, and when he speaks, you need to listen."
Haywood admits that he's a bit surprised to be playing as well as he has been.
"One of the reasons I never got down was that I knew I had a three-year contract and I had three years to prove myself," he said. "I just wanted to come in and work hard on my defense early and let everything else take care of itself. I'm getting more minutes here than I would have in Orlando, so I can't complain."
Dec 31, 2001 10:55 AM EST
The Magic will stay in New York an extra day because they don't play at Boston until Wednesday. No one in the Magic camp is disappointed.
New Year's Eve in the Big Apple? Ah, the possibilities.
And Magic Coach Doc Rivers won't impose any special rules for tonight. There is no practice today, either.
"They're adults," Rivers said. "Treating them like kids gets you in trouble. I just try to tell them to stay out of dangerous situations."
For most of the players, this is their first New Year's Eve in New York. It's odd, considering they travel so much, but most of them have had games elsewhere on this day.
"It's fun," Magic forward Jud Buechler said. "I'm not going to be going down to Times Square or anything, but I'm looking forward to it. I always love coming here."
A return to normalcy
Because of an unforgiving schedule and injuries of late, the Magic have had one formal practice in the past month.
"And we haven't had a quality practice since training camp," Rivers said.
All that will change now that the Magic enter a portion of the schedule that's more spread out -- and now that they have enough healthy players.
They'll have their first practice between games in three weeks Tuesday in New Jersey before flying to Boston.
The Magic have played 32 games in 62 days so far this season, including playing eight times on back-to-back nights. It's the most brutal stretch any team in the NBA has played.
"That's been difficult," Rivers said. "We've used shootarounds more than we ever had. And I don't even like shootarounds, really. From this point on, though, we'll have time to rest, practice and gather ourselves."
It's a difficult job
Rivers said he doesn't know if he could handle being in Knicks interim coach Don Chaney's situation.
"I think taking any interim job is impossible," said Rivers, who served as an assistant coach in Atlanta.
"You want to do things your way, but things have already been set another way. I couldn't do that."
Dec 31, 2001 10:53 AM EST
The big man, so long the anchor, was leading the cheers, giddy like no one had ever seen him. Patrick Ewing was slapping hands, rubbing heads, hugging bodies. He was pretending to punch teammates in the stomach. He was pulling on jersey shirts.
What the Magic did here Sunday night was improbable, special and might turn around their season.
Down 16 points with 7 minutes, 40 seconds remaining, they kept hustling, disregarding a scoreboard that said quit and snatched a 94-90 victory from the New York Knicks (13-17) with a 24-4 run.
And Ewing, who spent 15 years here and became a superstar while giving Madison Square Garden fans many memories, watched from the bench in pleasure.
?We could have very easily given up,? Ewing said, flashing that sun-bright grin, ?but we fought back.? The Magic (15-17) are alive again. Their eyes and voices said so. They went to a small lineup late in the game, and their hustle won it.
It was point guard Darrell Armstrong running down a streaking Latrell Sprewell and causing him to miss a layup. It was Pat Garrity ? the center in this lineup! ? diving to beat Marcus Camby for a rebound. It was Troy Hudson, on his way to 15 points and eight rebounds, making the Knicks' defenders look as if they had on roller skates. It was Mike Miller, who struggled, hitting a 3-pointer when it mattered most. It was Tracy McGrady, hawking Allan Houston all game and blocking Mark Jackson's shot on the Knicks' last chance.
McGrady missed 16 of 23 field-goal attempts, but he finished with 29 points, a game-high 11 rebounds and four assists. He was a major factor in Houston missing 13 of 19 shots, and he soared over Othella Harrington for a one-handed dunk that injected the Magic with energy.
?I think Tracy, defensively, all night was awesome,? Magic Coach Doc Rivers said. ?We always talk about his dunks, we talk about his great offensive moves. I think he should get more credit for his defense than he does.?
Ewing first entered the game with five minutes, 40 seconds remaining in the first quarter. The fans stood and clapped for him for 30 seconds. Then, while Miller was shooting free throws, they chanted ?Pat-rick Ewing!? over and over.
Ewing had five points and four rebounds in 15 minutes.
?I was a little tentative, maybe I was nervous,? Ewing said. ?I was looking forward to having a big game, but that wasn't the case.?
Ewing led from the bench most of the second half. Early in the fourth quarter, Rivers pulled a struggling Miller from the game. Ewing made Miller sit next to him. For the next few minutes, he talked with the struggling forward. When Rivers called for Miller to return to the game, Ewing yelled, ?Remember what I said, Mike.?
Several minutes later, Miller hit a 3-pointer to cut the Knicks' lead to 88-84. Then, Garrity hit a trey to make it 88-87 with one minute, six seconds left. After a jumper by Houston, McGrady drove on Sprewell, drew a foul, dunked and then made the free throw to tie the game. McGrady hit two free throws with 17 seconds left to give the Magic the lead. His defense on Jackson sealed the victory.
Asked if it was the best victory he has ever had, McGrady said, ?Oh, no doubt.?
?If we believe, look at what we can come up with,? Armstrong said. ?That's one of the best feelings I've ever had. I bet fans in Orlando are buzzing right now.?
Dec 31, 2001 10:50 AM EST
Tracy McGrady scored 29 points and blocked an ill-advised shot by Charlie Ward with five seconds left as the Orlando Magic closed the game with an 18-2 run and beat the New York Knicks, 94-90, Sunday night.
The collapse was the latest in a series of them for New York, which has shown a penchant lately for blowing leads late in games. Losing for the fifth time in their last six home games, the Knicks were booed off the court.
The crowd also booed Allan Houston early in the third quarter after he missed a free throw to remain scoreless, but the Knicks seemed to have won the fans over and have the game in hand after Latrell Sprewell hit a jumper for an 88-76 lead with 4:33 left.
The Knicks missed three shots on their next possession and suddenly couldn't score. McGrady scored on a drive and Mike Miller and Pat Garrity hit consecutive 3-pointers in an 11-0 run that made it 88-87. After Houston hit a 23-footer, McGrady was fouled by Sprewell as he went up for a dunk, and he converted the three-point play to tie it at 90.
Houston missed on a drive, and McGrady drew Shandon Anderson's sixth foul by driving around him and into the lane. McGrady hit both free throws with 17.1 seconds left for a 92-90 lead.
The Knicks then ran a two-man isolation play with Charlie Ward and Sprewell, but Ward -- hounded by the taller McGrady -- could not or would not throw an entry pass to Sprewell.
Instead, he hoisted a 3-pointer that was blocked by McGrady.
Troy Hudson grabbed the loose ball and was fouled, making both free throws to ice the win.
Hudson scored 15 and Miller 13 for the Magic.
Sprewell led the Knicks with 28, Houston had 17 and Kurt Thomas added 16.
Houston heard scattered boos late in he first half when he missed his sixth consecutive field goal attempt.
The taunts seemed to inspire Houston, who hit three shots over the rest of the quarter and began the fourth with consecutive 3-pointers for an 81-66 lead.
The Knicks came back from an early nine-point deficit and took a 49-43 halftime lead behind 21 points from Sprewell.
Dec 30, 2001 4:58 PM EST
In September 2000, Patrick Ewing became the centerpiece of the biggest trade in NBA history, in terms of players exchanged. The four-team, 12-player deal stunned NBA fans, sending Ewing as far away as possible from New York, where the 7-foot center had played his entire career.
But following one season in Seattle, Ewing departed with little fanfare before signing with the Orlando Magic last summer for a fraction of his previous salary.
Ewing wanted to return to the Sonics but after his worst season in the NBA, management removed his $14 million salary to clear space for a younger free agent.
At 39, Ewing is the second-oldest player in the NBA after John Stockton, who was born 132 days earlier. Unlike the Jazz point guard, Ewing has looked every bit his age during his 17th season in the NBA.
Ewing has regressed so much since being voted among the top 50 players in NBA history that he comes off the bench ? behind Andrew DeClercq.
Ewing remains an excellent defensive rebounder. But the touch that made him one of the best shooting big men of all time has disappeared. And Ewing is routinely scored upon by younger, quicker big men.
The Magic sorely needed a big man in the off season, so it offered Ewing and Horace Grant each two-year contracts worth about $4.5 million. Ewing intends to retire after next season.
"Then I move on into the sunset," he said.
But on most nights, the former great looks like he should be playing in a senior-citizen's league.
One of his teammates said it best.
"I'm old," said the 36-year-old Grant. "But I'm not Patrick-Ewing old."
Dec 30, 2001 10:24 AM EST
Santa Claus was good to Pat Williams, delivering a nine-game winning streak to the Orlando Magic's senior vice president.
It may appear that the big guy got the order a little confused; the streak was accomplished by Michael Jordan's Washington Wizards, not by the Magic. But the timing couldn't have been more fortuitous for Williams, who was completing a 22-city tour for a book he had written about Jordan.
Or at least he thought the tour was winding down -- until the winning streak.
"Usually a book tour is a month or so, but in this case it's gone on for three months, and the plan was to basically terminate it at Christmas," Williams said. "But I am now talking with them seriously about the fact that the Wizards are just heating up, Michael appears to be just hitting his stride. . . this is an ongoing story and why can't we keep hammering on this book all winter."
The 61-year-old Williams, who basically created the Magic, has authored two dozen books. "How to Be Like Mike" is his most successful by far.
"I don't have numbers yet. All I can measure is that if the publisher is not happy, book tours terminate quickly. I've had a number of them when the plug is pulled midstream with no warning," he said.
The book is published by Health Communications, Inc., of Deerfield Beach, publishers of "Chicken Soup for the Soul," which has sold 90 million copies, Williams said. The publishers like the concept of "How to be Like Mike" so much that Williams has been authorized to write similar books about John Wooden, Walt Disney and Magic Owner/Amway co-founder Rich DeVos. Other possibilities are Cal Ripken Jr., and Jackie Robinson. His next book will be "How to Be Like Jesus."
The Jordan book is subtitled "Life Lessons About Basketball's Best." It is written as a series of accolades and anecdotes that define who Jordan is and how he has become so great at what he does. Not knowing anything about Jordan's comeback plans, Williams wrote Jordan a letter at the outset, explaining his intention but not asking him to participate. Then he interviewed more than 1,500 people.
"What I really wanted was to get into his world," Williams said.
His success has been verified by no less an authority than Deloris Jordan, Michael's mother.
"One of my prize possessions is a two-page letter from Mrs. Jordan about the book," said Williams. "In summation, the bottom line of what she said was: 'You've captured my son.'. . . " The author is fascinated by Jordan's willpower, leadership ability and phenomenal stamina. But perhaps what comes across most is Jordan's genuine love of basketball.
My favorite anecdote is from 1994 when Jordan was struggling as a minor league baseball player in Birmingham, Ala. On his way to the ballpark one summer afternoon, he stopped by a 10-year-old boy shooting baskets in his driveway and asked if he could join him. They shot baskets together for 20 minutes and then Jordan got in his car and drove away.
"Here is the Michael Jordan we don't see," writes Williams. "Here is what exists beyond the iconography. It is not a pre-packaged smile, not a silhouetted T-shirt slogan, not a commerical spokesman, not a towering image on a TV screen. No. Here is a man. And here is a child."
Jordan's latest comeback has been a huge and unexpected bonus for Williams. Without it, all he had was a book.
"Now there's a news angle to it which has been very helpful," Williams says. "Everywhere I go, it's: 'Tell us about Michael. Why is doing this? What have you learned?'. . . " The comeback, as Williams sees it, is about Jordan's commitment to the Wizards.
"He's made a full commitment to this Washington franchise. He sat up in that owners' box for two years and I think it drove him crazy," Williams explained. "A franchise at the lowest level humanly possible, in success, in interest, in following, I mean absolutely couldn't be any lower, highlighted by a 19-win season under a rookie coach. Not a great group of guys.
"So Michael watches this and I think he said: 'I can't go through five years of this. We've got to do something to expedite it.' And his decision was to come down amongst them. And that's what he did. He said I will nestle amongst them and see if we can't juice this thing up."
If that sounds a bit messianic, so be it.
"It certainly has rejuvenated the franchise," Williams said. "There's enormous interest in Washington; they sell out every game. And they're making tremendous strides on the court. Rip Hamilton, (Brendan) Haywood, Kwame Brown, these guys seem to be getting it a little bit."
The Wizards' winning streak is over. But of course, so is Christmas. When the streak started, the Wizards were 3-10 and even Williams didn't expect much.
"I was thinking it's been a great run, I've loved doing the book, Michael's legacy will never be forgotten, the lessons of the book are just as valid, and let's see if he can through this," he said. "But I didn't give it much hope. I mean, I saw the Wizards play up in Boston and I didn't think they were gonna win two games. I just didn't think they had a chance."
Williams' book tour took him to Boston and Atlanta when the Wizards were playing there in November. After watching Williams discuss the book on television in Atlanta, Jordan couldn't resist teasing the author when they met in person in Boston.
"What are you doing, following me around? And besides, you're telling all my stories!" Jordan said.
"Well Michael," Williams replied. "They need to be told."
Dec 30, 2001 10:22 AM EST
Magic at Knicks
Who: Orlando Magic (14-17) vs. New York Knicks (13-16).
When: 7 p.m., today.
Where: New York's Madison Square Garden.
TV, radio: UPN-65; WMEL-AM 920, WDBO-AM.
Starters: Orlando -- guards Darrell Armstrong, Tracy McGrady; forwards Mike Miller, Horace Grant; center Andrew DeClercq. New York -- guards Mark Jackson, Allan Houston; forwards Latrell Sprewell, Kurt Thomas; center Marcus Camby.
Magic notes: Orlando begins its three-game roadtrip with some confidence after defeating the Detroit Pistons Friday night, 87-78. Orlando played solid defense, holding the Pistons to 35.8 percent shooting. The Magic play in Boston Wednesday and in New Jersey Friday. They return home Saturday night to host the Golden State Warriors. . . . Darrell Armstrong and Tracy McGrady are playing with nagging back injuries. Armstrong was the hero of Friday's win with his 21 points and six assists. Doctors do not want McGrady playing more than 35 minutes a night because of a lower back strain that kept him out of three games last week. He still managed 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists against the Pistons. . . . Orlando outrebounded Detroit 49-42. It was just the second time in nine game that the Magic have won the battle on the boards.
Knicks notes: Despite having the second-highest payroll in the NBA, New York has been a major disappointment so far this season. The Knicks lost 98-88 Friday night in Cleveland, their seventh loss in their past nine games. . . . Jeff Van Gundy resigned as head coach on Dec. 10 and the Knicks have struggled ever since. They lost their first four games under Don Chaney. New York's two wins under Chaney have come against Charlotte and Toronto, two playoff teams last season. . . . Latrell Sprewell leads the Knicks in scoring (20.2 points a game), but is shooting just 42.7 percent from the floor. . . . Oft-injured center Marcus Camby has been largely inconsistent in the 14 games he has played. In Friday's loss, he had more fouls (five) than points (three) in 17 minutes. . . . New York has won six of the past eight games against Orlando the past two seasons. Orlando has not won in New York since Feb. 1, 2000.
Next for the Magic: Wednesday, at Boston Celtics, 7 p.m. (UPN-65)
Dec 30, 2001 10:21 AM EST
The Orlando Magic had just suffered their worst loss of the season, and to make matters worse the team had a six-hour redeye flight to ponder a disastrous roadtrip in which it lost four times in five games.
The beleaguered Magic landed in Orlando early that next morning well before the sun hit the horizon. Head coach Doc Rivers managed to brighten the spirits of his players somewhat by announcing that he was giving them the next two days off in hopes that the rest would help heal their battered bodies and bruised psyches.
But veteran center Patrick Ewing, bothered greatly about missing 5 of his 7 shots and watching Seattle outscore the Magic 34-2 in the paint a night earlier, wanted nothing to do with time away from the game. He had to get this bad basketball taste out of his mouth and he had to do it right then.
"We land at 6 in the morning and Patrick asks (Magic assistant coach) Johnny (Davis) to meet him at the gym," Rivers recalled. "And Johnny said, 'When? Later this evening?' He said, 'No, now.' They went straight to (the Magic headquarters) and practiced for an hour and a half. I mean, this is one of the 50 greatest players of all time at the end of his career and he's working on his game at 6 o'clock in the morning. We had two days off before our next game, and Patrick was there both days."
Ewing, a sure-fire Hall of Famer when he likely retires after next season, returns to New York tonight, the place where he spent the first 15 years of his career. Ewing is just two seasons removed from wearing the orange and blue of the Knicks, but in many ways it seems like light years ago. His dominant days as an 11-time All-Star, which included being named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, seems like some sort of past life. Now, the 39-year-old center is reduced to backing up Andrew DeClercq and averaging career lows in points (7.0) and rebounds (5.0) as a reserve.
But Ewing has refused to grumble about his reduced role, instead serving as more of a mentor for youngsters such as Tracy McGrady and Steven Hunter. He was particularly vocal in a two-hour team meeting Thursday, holding court about the problems that have plagued the Magic (14-17) this season.
"I'm looking forward to (playing in New York again)," Ewing said. "It's still home for me, and I want to play my best there."
Ewing's tempestuous relationship with New York always was a love-hate relationship. Fans and news media loved him for turning the Knicks into consistent winners again, while becoming arguably the franchise's greatest player ever. But his wariness of the spotlight in a city that feeds off electric personalities wore some the wrong way.
By the time when he asked for a trade in the summer of 2000, things had turned ugly. His teammates began to insinuate that the Knicks were better off without his plodding style. And few in New York seemed able to forgive him for not being able to produce a championship while in New York.
Rivers, who played in New York with Ewing for 2 1/2 seasons, is irked by the notion that Ewing's tenure with the Knicks was a failure because he did not win it all.
"It's not unfortunate, it's unfair," Rivers said. "I've always thought that. Blame me, blame Charles Smith, Rolando Blackman, Greg Anthony and Charles Oakley for not winning a title. Don't blame Patrick Ewing, because he did his job. If he would have had better players around him, he would have won a ring."
Ewing was traded to Seattle before last season and all seemed to be forgiven last February when he returned to New York for the first time. Many of the same fans who booed him spent the game chanting "Pat-rick Ew-ing!" And the 7-footer responded to the pregame ovations and the chants with a solid 12-point, five-rebound effort. It is, he said, one of his greatest basketball memories.
"It was very emotional. They tried to make me cry," Ewing joked. "I was very emotional. This time, I'll get ready the same way I always do and try to say hello to a lot of my friends who are still there before the game."
Acquired this summer along with Horace Grant to bolster the Magic's sagging frontline, Ewing's impact thus far has been spotty at best. There have been flashes of his former greatness -- 22 points in a dominant performance in Phoenix, 18 points against old nemesis Michael Jordan in Washington and 11 points and nine rebounds Friday night in Orlando's win against Detroit.
"The time that I am out on the court, I think I'm pretty productive," said Ewing, who is playing 16.6 minutes a game. "I'm helping my team and doing a lot of little things like rebounding and playing defense."
But mostly, Ewing has struggled with his stamina and to keep up with the younger, quicker players. He has been largely ineffective when the Magic have played on back-to-back nights, and Rivers has been quick to pull him from games.
But Rivers is quick to defend his veteran center, stressing that his impact on the Magic stretches well beyond the basketball court. And as the 6 a.m. workout might suggest, Rivers said Ewing is as hungry as ever for success.
"I think he's even more so driven. The one thing everybody has always underestimated about Patrick is his pride," Rivers said. "He has more pride than any single player I've ever been around. His feelings are hurt when he doesn't play well because his pride has been damaged. To him, even though he's playing 16 minutes and he's hot and cold now, he's still searching for a way to be consistent every day. And it hurts him -- you can actually see it in his eyes -- when he doesn't play well because he feels he's letting us down.
"My wife (Kris Rivers) thinks Patrick's far more relaxed and happier now," Rivers continued. "A lot of that is that he's not 'The Man.' The pressure is off a little, and he can enjoy the game. His whole career he had all that pressure on him, and I don't know if he got a chance to enjoy it. I've never seen Patrick happier. He's always laughing and joking around and he's fun on the plane. Coaches and players come up to me all the time now and say, 'I didn't know Patrick was like this.' And I tell them, 'I didn't either.' "
Rivers has no plans to start Ewing tonight -- "I don't like Patrick that much," he joked -- but does plan to use the center 20-plus minutes. And Rivers thinks Ewing will be invigorated by the return to New York.
"Patrick's M.O. so far has been when he's played out West or TV games or against old opponents he's played extremely well, so we're gonna pray and hope that trend continues," Rivers said. "I would be thrilled to death if he has a great game in New York, I really would. I'm going to try to put him in every position to do that. He'll be in and he'll get a great ovation. He deserves every hand he gets. I wish he would have gotten more of them when he was there."
Dec 30, 2001 10:19 AM EST
Rarely have both the Orlando Magic and the New York Knicks been wallowing below the .500 mark whenever they have met.
But their game tonight could bump the Jets and the Giants off the back page of New York's tabloids. That's because it marks the second visit by Patrick Ewing to Madison Square Garden, and his first in a Magic uniform, since the Knicks traded the franchise's all-time leader in almost every major statistical category to Seattle in September 2000.
If the reception is anything like the one he received last season when the SuperSonics played the Knicks, expect a rousing ovation and chants of "Pa-trick Ew-ing" followed by rhythmic clapping.
"He deserves every hand," Magic coach Doc Rivers said. "I wish he got more of them when he was there."
Ewing went into the weekend averaging 6.9 points and 4.9 rebounds in 16.4 minutes through 30 games with the Magic. Those figures are all less than half of what he averaged during a 15-year career with the Knicks.
"You can see it in his eyes when he's not playing well," Rivers said. "He feels he's letting us down. He feels he's letting me down."
But at age 39, Ewing remains driven. After the Magic got back two weeks ago from a lengthy and frustrating road trip at 6 a.m., Ewing told assistant coach Johnny Davis to meet him right away at the team's practice facility for what turned out to be a 90-minute workout.
"I would be thrilled to death if Patrick Ewing could have a great game in New York. I really would," Rivers said. "And I'm going to try to put him in every position I can for him to do that."
A QUIET EXIT
While Ewing is bound to be the center of attention in New York, Horace Grant would prefer to go about his final NBA season with a minimum of fuss.
"I came into the league quiet. I'm going out quiet. That's the way I like it," said Grant, 36, who has announced he will bypass the final year of his contract with the Magic in favor of retirement.
Grant is playing almost as many minutes a game as he did last season with the Los Angeles Lakers. But with no one remotely close to the equivalent of Shaquille O'Neal at center for the Magic, the 6-foot-10 forward is absorbing more of a pounding.
Although his only absence thus far came Nov. 21 against Minnesota because of back spasms, Grant said he has been playing for more than three weeks with a pain in his leg which shows no signs of healing.
"When your body tells you, Hey, it's time to hang these things up,' . . ." he said, holding a pair of his basketball shoes. "You look at a guy like Larry Bird. He knew it was time to hang it up."
The Magic's 102-80 drubbing Dec. 22 at Dallas was noteworthy only for rookie guard Jeryl Sasser making his regular-season debut in his hometown.
Sasser was activated earlier in the day and had three points, three rebounds and one assist in 15 minutes against the Mavericks. To make room for the No. 22 overall draft pick from last summer, the Magic placed their other first-round selection -- center Steven Hunter, who started in 21 of their first 26 games -- on the injured list with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
"I knew it was going to happen eventually," Sasser said of his activation, which came while Tracy McGrady was in Atlanta having his strained lower back examined. "I just had to be patient."
Dec 30, 2001 10:18 AM EST
New York Knicks, 7
WHERE: Madison Square Garden.
RECORDS: Magic 14-17, Knicks 13-16.
BROADCAST: TV -- WRBW-Channel 65. Radio -- 580 AM (WDBO) in Orlando; Spanish-language coverage on 1440 AM (WPRD).
PROBABLE STARTERS: Magic -- F Mike Miller (6-8), F Horace Grant (6-10), C Andrew DeClercq (6-10), G Tracy McGrady (6-8), G Darrell Armstrong (6-1). Knicks -- F Latrell Sprewell (6-5), F Kurt Thomas (6-9), C Marcus Camby (6-11), G Allan Houston (6-6), G Mark Jackson (6-3).
MAGIC UPDATE: Now that the Magic are playing better defense, they are having offensive problems. They have dropped from No. 1 to No. 5 in the NBA in scoring over the past two weeks and haven't scored 100 points since Dec. 15, a span of six consecutive games. It's their poorest offensive stretch of the season. The Magic beat Detroit 87-78 on Friday night to stop a three-game losing streak.
KNICKS UPDATE: The Knicks have already lost their coach. Jeff Van Gundy quit earlier in the month after a successful run. The Knicks have lost seven of their past nine games. In four of those games, they didn't convert down the stretch and had wins stolen from them. Sprewell, who is averaging 20 points, is having an all-star year, and Houston has averaged 31 points over the past two games and is beginning to play as if he's worthy of the $100 million contract the Knicks gave him this past off-season. Injuries have been the Knicks' biggest problem. Camby has missed 15 games, and forward Clarence Weatherspoon has played in only 12.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Miller is due for a big game. Though he has produced, he hasn't shot the ball well since going eight-of-16 on Dec. 16 in a loss against Seattle. If Camby is healthy, the Magic will struggle against him. In three games against the Magic last season, Camby averaged 15.7 points and 11 rebounds.
ETC.: The Magic have lost three straight games at the Garden. Their last win there was 98-77 on Feb. 1, 2000.
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