- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2012

An Orlando Magic team plagued with distractions stemming from tension between star center Dwight Howard and coach Stan Van Gundy visits Verizon Center on Tuesday, providing an opportunity for the Wizards to steal a victory.

Howard is listed as doubtful with back spasms, which should give Washington a better-than-usual chance.

It’s been a challenge for the Magic to focus on team goals and playoff chances as speculation about whether Howard would be traded has dwarfed all other news surrounding the team for most of the season.

After months of repeated trade requests, Howard made a last-minute decision to re-sign with the Magic for one more year. And just when that drama began to subside, it reached a new level during a shootaround news conference last week, when Van Gundy told reporters he had been told by someone in the team’s front office that Howard wanted him fired.

Before the news conference was over, Howard walked in, draped an arm around Van Gundy, and proceeded to challenge reporters about their sources in a scene so awkward local media termed the entire episode a “Dwightmare.”

“It was weird,” Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said of the situation. “There is nothing you can do about it. It’s done and over with. The rest of the guys have moved on.”

While the Wizards managed to provide a little drama of their own at the start of the season, the three players that provided the most talked-about moments are no longer with the team. Nick Young and JaVale McGee, both of whom could be counted on for a few cringe-worthy moments, have been traded; Andray Blatche is inactive and likely done for the season to work on his conditioning.

The problem now is mounting injuries and fatigue. The Wizards also are without Rashard Lewis, inactive with a bone bruise in his left knee, and Nene and Trevor Booker are day-to-day with foot ailments. The team’s schedule also is heavy with two- and three-straight-game stretches.

It does give coach Randy Wittman a chance to evaluate players, specifically those that are with the team on 10-day contracts, as they look ahead to next season.

Cartier Martin, James Singleton and Brian Cook each have had an opportunity to play solid minutes and give the team a lift from the bench as the season winds to a close.

“I want to look at Cartier, that’s why we signed him to a 10-day, because I want to take a look at him,” Wittman said. “I thought James [Singleton] had no idea what we were doing, [but] he picks things up very quickly. The more he gets familiar with what we’re doing and those things come back, I think he can give us some good minutes with Nene and Trevor Booker out.”

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