Updated: December 24, 2010, 3:15 AM ET

1. New-Look Magic Find The Range Against Spurs

By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Ninety minutes before tipoff of Thursday's game, Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy joked that his biggest challenge was still trying to match the names and jersey numbers of his team's four newcomers in the aftermath of last week's two major trades.

Then came the laugher.

By the time the final buzzer sounded after his team's 123-101 dismantling of the San Antonio Spurs, Van Gundy and the Magic were no longer strangers to victory. The recently reeling Magic ended their four-game losing streak by rolling past a Spurs team with the NBA's best record.

In ending San Antonio's 10-game winning streak, the Magic delivered a performance that paints a more promising face on the makeover that jettisoned Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat and brought in Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark.

Afterward, Van Gundy and his team were faced with a new dilemma. Was Thursday's annihilation of the surging Spurs (25-4) an aberration for Orlando? Or was the therapeutic victory a sign of what could be in store for the potentially explosive Magic (17-12), which had lost eight of their previous nine games?

"We've been together four days," Van Gundy said after arguably the Magic's most impressive win of the season. "I'm not going to sit up here and pretend I have all of the answers. What it does is it shows what's possible with this group. We still have to get a lot better. There's a long way to go, and you're not going to be able to run up and down like that every night. This is a [heck] of a win for us."

At least there's not more guess work with what this Magic team is capable of becoming when everyone grows acclimated with one another. After changing his starting lineup in each of the past five games, which included a stretch before Saturday's trades, Van Gundy saw levels of cohesion and chemistry Thursday normally associated with teams that have played together four years, not four days.

The Magic, which rank among the league's least productive teams in transition scoring, blew through the Spurs for a 30-2 advantage in fast-break points. Of the 11 Orlando players who saw action against the Spurs, 10 of them finished with at least one assist on a night the team totaled 31.

Newcomers led the way. Arenas, Richardson and Turkoglu shot a combined 13-of-53 from the field through their first two games after the trade in losses to Atlanta and Dallas before they could even go through a practice session with their new team. On Thursday, those three were a far more efficient 18-of-38 from the field and accounted for 40 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds.

Add in 17 points apiece from J.J .Redick and Brandon Bass, and its the kind of supporting cast contribution that make the Magic dangerous on night's when Dwight Howard had another remarkably routine effort with 29 points and 14 rebounds.

"This is what we expect," Howard said. "Are we going to score 120 points every night? We don't know. But just the effort we've had is something we expect every night. It feels good to see everybody on the same page, knowing this is how we have to play every night for us to be successful. We're not playing for December and January. We're playing for June."

The Magic still have a few kinks to work out between now and the postseason. It starts with settling on a rotation with an imbalanced roster. There are four point guards and only one true center, Howard.

Should Arenas consistently produce at the level he did Thursday -- 14 points, nine assists, six rebounds -- it could create an uncomfortable situation at point guard, where Jameer Nelson has been entrenched as the starter. Van Gundy was non-committal as to whether he could envision Arenas starting, but didn't completely rule out the possibility that Nelson could come off the bench.

In either case, he said there would be enough minutes to go around, with the primary perimeter players likely to average between 28-32 minutes a game. Arenas wanted no part of either that discussion or any potential disruption in his new surroundings.

"I'm coming off the bench," Arenas said, when asked if he could see himself challenging for a starting role. "I don't want to start. This team is too talented."

At some point, the Magic must also get Howard some help in the post. Again, Van Gundy was in a joking mood when he suggested he'd play Howard all 48 minutes each night. Howard had a relatively light night of work Thursday. He played 32 minutes in a game Orlando blew open in the third quarter.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was impressed with the personnel moves by the Magic, and believes they will again be a title contender once everyone settles into their new roles. Thursday was only a hint of what might be in store if Orlando reaches its potential.

"Personally, I think they've got a hell of a chance that this is going to make it right," Popovich said of the Magic's moves. "They know what they need. They know if they're good enough or not. They know if the team has the belief. They know if the trust is there, if the confidence is there. They know if a change had to be made. They've been in the Finals. They know what it takes. The fact they did what they did tells you they knew a change had to be made. You have to believe that's the right decision."

Dimes past: Dec. 4-5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17-19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23

2. An Audience With The Greatest

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com


PHOENIX -- Leaning in with a giddy smile, LeBron James draped his arm around the legend sitting next him for a photo that gave him a rare quality. For a second, James looked like just a fan.

That defined the nice moment James shared with Muhammed Ali during halftime of the Heat's 95-83 victory over the Suns on Thursday night. Several players stopped by for photo ops with the living legend, treatment Jack Nicholson doesn't even enjoy.

James had met Ali before but said: "It feels like the first time every time you get an opportunity to see him and shake hands with him. He's by far one of the top two greatest athletes ever. He did more for sports than just boxing. No athlete will ever be able to compare what he did in the ring and outside the ring."

Who else is in James' top two? He mentioned Michael Jordan and then added Pele. Depends on taste, probably.

Out in the Heat's proverbial ring, they were missing one of their top two against the Suns, as Dwyane Wade was a late scratch with a sore knee. It appears that the decision to sit Wade was precautionary and he'd likely be ready to play on Christmas against the Lakers in Los Angeles.

Click here to read the rest from Windhorst at ESPN.com's Heat Index.

3. Daily Dime Live Recap

ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Thursday's games -- all in Daily Dime Live.

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