The Philadelphia 76ers have fallen out of first place in the Atlantic Division and are sliding down the Eastern Conference standings.
Their problems, however, pale in comparison to the drama surrounding the Orlando Magic.
With the ongoing rift between coach Stan Van Gundy and All-Star center Dwight Howard intensifying, the scuffling Magic try to avoid losing six straight games for the first time in six years Saturday night when they visit the 76ers.
Following Orlando's Thursday morning shootaround ahead of that night's matchup with New York, Van Gundy said he has been told by high-ranking team officials that Howard has previously asked that he be fired. Reports of Howard's request surfaced near the trade deadline, but this was the first time Van Gundy confirmed the rumors.
Howard has continuously denied that he's asked for Van Gundy's dismissal, and again brushed aside any mention of such a demand despite his coach's statement. On the court against the Knicks, the six-time All-Star looked as if he didn't have much desire to play for Van Gundy, although some of it could have stemmed from a recent injury.
After missing two games with back spasms, Howard had eight points and eight rebounds in 40 minutes of a 96-80 loss. It was his lowest-scoring output since also finishing with eight in a win over New York on Jan. 16.
Howard's subpar performance led to a fifth straight loss for the Magic (32-23). The team hasn't dropped six in a row since Feb. 26-March 6, 2006.
With all the off-court distractions surrounding Orlando, point guard Jameer Nelson said the team simply needs to focus on ignoring all issues that don't pertain to basketball.
"We've been handling adversity all season,'' said Nelson, who had 10 points Thursday after sitting out Tuesday's loss to Detroit with a sore left calf. "This is just another chapter of it. This is about us players and management sticking together."
Orlando's losing streak has caused the team to fall from third place in the East to sixth.
The 76ers (29-25) have experienced a similar slide in the last two weeks, dropping from fourth - and atop the Atlantic - to seventh.
Philadelphia, a game back of division-leading Boston, has lost eight of 12 and a sputtering offense can be blamed for much of its issues. The Sixers have been held to 80 points or fewer in six of those losses and are coming off a humiliating showing.
After leading lowly Toronto at the break Wednesday, the Sixers managed 22 second-half points in a 99-78 home loss. Louis Williams, who averages a team-best 15.3 points, scored nine for Philadelphia, which missed 13 straight shots at one point and finished with seven fourth-quarter points - a team-record low for a final period dating to the 1954-55 season.
"We got to continue to trust in each other," Andre Iguodala said.
Iguodala, who averages 12.1 points, scored six against the Raptors after leaving Tuesday's 99-93 loss to Miami with a left eye bruise.
The Magic are hoping to have Ryan Anderson back after he sat out two games with a sprained right ankle. Anderson, second on the Magic in scoring at 16.1 per game and the league leader with 150 3-pointers, carried Orlando in its last game against the Sixers, scoring 27 points on 7-of-10 shooting beyond the arc in a 103-87 victory Feb. 15.
He had 14 points and a career-best 20 rebounds, while Howard had 17 points and 11 boards, in a 74-69 loss in Philadelphia on Jan. 30, the Magic's lone defeat in the last five meetings.
- Stan Van Gundy
- Dwight Howard
- Orlando Magic