Orlando Magic Getting Inside 2008-07-26

It may have happened 3,000 miles away, and for a whole different team, but the return to the court of Dwight Howard brought a sigh of relief to much of Orlando.

After avoiding any basketball contact for more than six weeks because of a stress fracture to his sternum, Howard returned to the court and full-scale practices for the USA Basketball team in Las Vegas.

Howard sustained the stress fracture in the Magic's second-round playoff loss against Detroit, forcing him to miss the Olympic team's first mini-camp.

Although Howard never has missed a game in four seasons with the Magic, his role as the only true center on the Olympic team has made some in the Magic organization a little uncomfortable. He is expected to play heavy minutes for the Olympic team, but the Magic still want him fresh when training camp opens in October.

With a relatively quiet summer, the Howard issue has remained in the spotlight. The Magic signed free agent shooting guard Mickael Pietrus from the Golden State Warriors, expecting him to slow down all the guards and small forwards that hurt them last season.

They also signed point guard Anthony Johnson to be the backup for Jameer Nelson. They completed a sign-and-trade deal that sent versatile Keyon Dooling to New Jersey in exchange for a trade exception worth an estimated $3 million.

The Magic are trying to continue their rise in the Eastern Conference, following their finest season in 12 years. They won 52 games and reached the second round of the playoffs.

They believe that the continued maturity of a young nucleus -- particularly Howard -- and the re-arranging of the backcourt will allow the team to take the next step.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: July 26, 2008