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Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic have defeated the Celtics and the Spurs, who have the best two records in the NBA, since making trades that shook up their roster. Photo by Jeff LewisLebron’s triple-double helps Heat smash Lakers, Orlando trades bear fruit and Stoudemire bolsters his MVP candidacy while leading the resurgent Knicks.By Michael Brown,Sentinel sports writerLakers trounced by Miami in Christmas Day debacleAfter the Lakers lost at home by 19 to the undermanned Bucks last week, fans and media chalked it up to them “looking ahead” to the Christmas Day game against Miami. But after the Heat embarrassed the Lakers, 96-80, the laissez faire attitudes have been replaced by concern.It wasn’t just the fact that the Lakers lost to Miami, but the way they lost. L.A. played a listless first quarter, scoring just 14 points and allowing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to set the tone for the Heat’s 14th win in 15 games.Speaking of setting the tone, Ron Artest didn’t help matters when he picked up his second foul early, resulting in him heading to the bench and disrupting L.A.‘s rotation. For the second consecutive year, James torched L.A. by finishing with a triple-double compared to Kobe Bryant’s ordinary output of 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting from the field.Last season, during the Lakers’ loss to the James-led Cavaliers, fans rained down foam fingers and plastic water bottles onto the Staples Center floor after a controversial foul call. This year, fans’ frustration wasn’t expressed in projectiles, but instead, by the Lakers themselves.“The game has to be the most important thing,” Bryant said. “You have to focus on it, you have to play every game like it’s your last, (and) you have to be attentive to what’s going on.”At 21-9, the Lakers are still in position to win the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed, but only if they play with more urgency. Dallas and San Antonio look for real, so L.A. can’t expect either team to concede.Lakers fans shouldn’t panic, but there’s cause for concern.Until Andrew Bynum plays himself back into shape, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom have to assert themselves more on the boards, and Ron Artest has to be more than a two-bit contributor.Artest raffled away his championship ring for charity, but his noble efforts will fall on deaf ears if L.A. fails to three-peat due in part to his sub par play. Orlando after the tradesTrue, it’s only been a week since Orlando made two trades to turnover its roster, but the moves by the Magic have already began to pay off--proven by back-to-back wins against teams with the NBA’s best records.Orlando snapped Boston’s 14-game win streak on Christmas Day in an 86-78 home win, after rallying from 12 points down.Newly re-acquired forward Hedo Turkoglu finished with 16 points, including shooting 4-for-8 from the three-point line. Turkoglu also led the Magic with 20 points during its third win in a row, defeating the Nets, 104-88.Last week, Orlando snapped San Antonio’s 10-game win streak, 123-101. During that game, Gilbert Arenas, who said in an ESPN interview that he felt “revitalized” since being traded from Washington, scored 14 points, dished out nine assists and grabbed six rebounds off the bench, while fellow newcomer Jason Richardson scored 15 points.Most of the NBA media has lauded the Magic for making both blockbuster deals, but hardly anyone believes the moves push them ahead of Boston or Miami. It will be interesting to see if Orlando general manager Otis Smith allows this group time to gel or if he opts to dangle a player such as Richardson in another deal to add some frontcourt bulk.New York Knicks revivalDuring the off season, many scoffed at the Knicks’ signing of Amar’e Stoudemire to a five-year $100 million free agent contract. Stoudemire was clearly the Knicks’ second choice in free agency, after the team had spent the prior two seasons gutting its roster in hopes of signing LeBron James to a deal--only to watch him sign with the Heat.But Spike Lee and the rest of New York’s faithful have been treated to a pleasant surprise as Stoudemire has averaged 26 points per game, nine rebounds and two blocks, during the Knicks’ 18-12 start.The New York renaissance hasn’t just been led by MVP candidate Stoudemire, but by other moves made during the off season.Free agent point guard Raymond Felton, who spent parts of last season in coach Larry Brown’s doghouse in Charlotte, looks like a cinch to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. He’s scoring 18 points per game and leading the league’s best offense (108 points per game) by dishing out nine assists per contest.Rookie Landry Fields has been another key addition. Pac-10 fans were familiar with Fields’ play during his time at Stanford, but NBA scouts dropped the ball when the versatile forward fell to New York in the second round.Fields, born in Long Beach and a product of Los Alamitos High School, has started all 30 games and averages 11 points and eight rebounds. Although Washington’s John Wall and the Clippers’ Blake Griffin will battle it out for Rookie of the Year honors, Fields is the most valuable to his team. Coach Mike D’Antoni’s run and gun offense suits his team’s personnel, evidenced by the improved play of Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. The Knicks aren’t a contender to win the title, but they’re fun to watch. They’ll be tested this week when they take on Miami and Orlando on the road.Larry Brown out in CharlotteThe nomad of professional coaches, Larry Brown, was ousted Dec. 22 after meeting with Charlotte team owner Michael Jordan and replaced by Paul Silas on an interim basis.Brown leaving a coaching job isn’t a surprise, but this time things were different. Brown is accustomed to packing his bags and heading out of dodge after short stints with college and professional teams. However, after the Bobcats’ slow start, he was fired.Pink slips should be handed out to many in the Bobcats’ front office as well. Brown complained that letting players such as Felton and Tyson Chandler walk without receiving compensation would weaken the team. His warnings weren’t heeded and now instead of the playoffs, Charlotte looks like its headed back to the NBA Lottery.If the Bobcats continue to struggle, it’s not inconceivable that management could decide to start over and deal older players such as Stephen Jackson, Nazr Mohammed and Boris Diaw or a young player like Tyrus Thomas.All of the mentioned players could potentially yield draft picks and free up cap space.
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