Updated: October 29, 2010, 7:30 AM ET

1. Don't Forget About The Magic

By Michael Wallace

ORLANDO -- Despite destroying opponents throughout the preseason and thoroughly dominating the Washington Wizards to open their new $400 million arena Thursday night, the Orlando Magic find themselves in a familiar spot: Overlooked in Orlando.

But this season, the Magic insists they aren't worried about public perception or lobbying for more recognition throughout the league. Their logic is simple. Those things will all take care of themselves along their pursuit of an NBA championship.

After beating their preseason opponents by an average of 25 points and holding them to 36 percent shooting, the Magic didn't skip a beat in Thursday's 112-83 dismantling of the Wizards.

So go ahead and let the new-look Miami Heat garner all of the hype, the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers get the national headlines and the Boston Celtics claim the perch atop the Eastern Conference for now. The Magic continue to fly under the national radar of public perception. But this time, they've learned to embrace the cruising altitude.

"We've always been the team that's always been overlooked," Howard said after collecting 23 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in 30 minutes to start his seventh season. "That doesn't bother us. We put in the work every day. Our goal is a championship. And nobody can take away wins. Our focus is not to get all of the media attention and all of the hype. We don't need that."

In the past, the Magic may have sought validation and vindication.

But things are different in Orlando now. There's a more serious tone to the team's temperament. Aside from cracking a few jokes in the locker room about Howard doing 10 pushups near the bench for missing 10 free throws in the game, the Magic were mostly in a business-like mood. Players left the locker room and headed to the team's flight to Miami for Friday's game against the Heat as if they were punching time cards after a routine night of work.

"I'm not sure what we've improved on the most just yet," coach Stan Van Gundy said when asked about the biggest adjustment his team has made since last season. "I just know our focus and intensity has been great, and I think that we've been a little more serious than we have been in the past. I think we want to change some of the things that have been problems in the past, and I've been really happy with them as a group."

But to know Van Gundy is to understand that Stan is a man who is never satisfied. Late in the first quarter, with the Magic already ahead by 18 points, Van Gundy shouted at his starters for slacking off on a defensive possession that led to a Wizards score. Point guard Jameer Nelson fired back at his coach, and the two exchanged glares and choice words for several seconds. Then the lead grew to 24.

No letdown. No mercy. That's essentially the Magic's mantra this season. After losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals two seasons ago and falling to Boston in the Eastern Conference finals last season, the Magic are trying to break free of what has seemed like a restraining order with the Larry O'Brien trophy. The competition in the East has only gotten tougher, with Boston, Miami and Chicago having retooled their rosters to make championship chases of their own.

But the Magic are running out of excuses. Their core of Howard, Nelson and Rashard Lewis have been intact for four seasons, the team has moved into a state-of-the-art building and owner Rich DeVos has authorized team executives to spend more than $20 million toward the league luxury tax to put the final roster pieces in place needed to win a title.

"It's all about the ending result for us now," guard Vince Carter said. "But at the end of the day, this is a great situation for us. There's no pressure on us. You don't really hear about the Magic when all the so-called experts talk about teams that are supposed to do big things. So when we go out there and do it, we're like, 'Hey, we knew we could do this. That's all that matters. We have to go earn it."

Orlando is quietly making the necessary changes to crash what is widely expected to be a Lakers-Heat showdown in the NBA Finals.

There's more depth, where the second unit of Chris Duhon, J.J. Redick, Mickael Pietrus, Ryan Anderson and Marcin Gortat might be better than a third of the league's starting units.

There's more versatility, with coach Stan Van Gundy mixing and matching lineups that range from shifting Rashard Lewis from power forward to small forward.

Ultimately, there appears to be more to Howard's game. The big fella showed the level of agility around the basket that's been a byproduct of offseason work with Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon and in-season grooming from Magic assistant coach Patrick Ewing.

"We want to be the best defensive team in the league," Howard said. "And in order to do that, we have to do it every night, no matter if it's the Lakers, Miami, Boston or a team like Washington."

Michael Wallace is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime

Dimes past: October 27 | 28

2. Wall Learns His First Lesson

By Michael Wallace

ORLANDO -- Rookie point guard John Wall, the top pick in last June's draft, learned a valuable lesson in his NBA regular-season debut: stay away from Dwight Howard.

And he learned it the hard way. Wall scored the first points of his career when Howard pounded his driving layup off the backboard on a goaltending call. The next time Wall challenged Howard in the paint, he ended up on his backside after a legitimate block by the Orlando Magic center.

Welcome to the league, kid.

"It was tough," Wall said after he finished with 14 points and nine assists, but missed 13 of 19 shots from the field in the Washington Wizards' 29-point loss to the Magic on Thursday. "It really taught me what I need to work on. For my first game to be a road game against one of the top teams [that] made it to the NBA Finals a few years ago, it was pretty tough."

The night ended much worst than it began for Wall, 20, who approached the game with a level of maturity well beyond his years. The former University of Kentucky star even ditched a couple of his pregame routines heading into Thursday's game.

Instead of eating a cheeseburger, his typical meal of choice before each game, he instead upgraded to a steak before facing the Magic. And instead of texting several of his friends who are established stars in the league, such as LeBron James, Wall turned his cell phone off and spoke with only close relatives in the hours leading up to the game.

Wizards coach Flip Saunders was impressed with Wall's approach, and said he carries himself with a savvy and swagger similar to some of the other marquee point guards he's coached. Saunders was in Minnesota when the Timberwolves drafted Stephon Marbury after one season at Georgia Tech. Saunders was also in Detroit when Chauncey Billups annually led the Pistons to the conference finals.

"He's even more advanced than most of those guys, just from the standpoint of his natural leadership ability," Saunders said. "Just how he deals, he's kind of a combination of all of those guys."

There was no shortage of advice for Wall, even from Orlando's players. He spoke at length during the halftime break with Howard. Vince Carter also had words of encouragement after the game.

"I told him I was going to give him two points tonight," Howard said, making light of the goaltending call. "He's going to have a great career. He's so fast. He wants to play at that one speed. I told him to slow down a bit. He's going to learn a lot. I'm 24, and I'm still learning in this league."

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.

4. Wall's Tough Shooting Night

Elias Sports Bureau

John Wall made 6-of-19 shots from the floor for the Washington Wizards in his NBA debut. Since the modern draft was instituted in 1966, only three other No. 1 selections missed as many as 13 field-goal attempts in their debuts. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) went 12-for-27 in his first game for the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969, Mark Aguirre was 7-for-21 from the floor in his debut for the Dallas Mavericks in 1981 and Patrick Ewing was 8-for-21 in his NBA debut for the New York Knicks in 1985.

More from Elias


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