Monday November 12th, 2007

When Rashard Lewis signed a six-year, $118.5 million contract with Orlando in the offseason, he envisioned a scenario of being the yin to Dwight Howard's yang, feasting on open looks resulting from Howard double teams. At 28, Lewis was just entering his prime, and after toiling his first nine years in Seattle, he was ready to bring his deft shooting touch to a playoff-caliber team in desperate need of an outside presence to complement its young center.

But even the best-laid plans sometimes go awry. When Orlando lost starting power forward Tony Battie to season-ending shoulder surgery last month, Lewis, a small forward for most of his career, was thrust into an unfamiliar role as the Magic's de facto power forward, a position he shares with another converted swingman, Hedo Turkoglu. Instead of floating around the perimeter, the 6-foot-10, 230-pound Lewis frequently finds himself banging bodies underneath. Last Friday, Lewis jostled for rebounds with the Knicks' Zach Randolph, a 6-9, 260-pound power forward.

"It's a little different role," Lewis said. "They want me to help Dwight out on the glass. But I'm pretty comfortable in it. It doesn't matter [where I play], as long as I'm out there. I can play the 3, the 4, even some 2. The more versatile you are, the more minutes you can get out on the court."

Thus far it has been difficult for Magic coach Stan Van Gundy to keep Lewis off the court. Lewis leads the team in minutes (38.1 per game) and is second in scoring (20.6 points) while proving to be lethal from three-point range (50.5 percent). While the Magic were roundly criticized for overpaying for Lewis in free agency, he has responded well to the pressure of living up to such a lucrative contract.

"The pressure is on me every night," Lewis said. "I'm expected to score and do a lot of other things. So yeah, the pressure is on."

Rebounding is still an issue for the Magic (they rank 22nd in rebounding differential), with Howard generally getting very little help on the backboards. Against New York, Howard pulled down 20 rebounds, matching the combined total for the rest of the team. In addition, Van Gundy said there's "a little" concern that having to match up with more physical players night after night will take its toll on Lewis and Turkoglu.

"We have to think about how we are going to handle the [power-forward] position," Van Gundy said. "How much time do we play [Lewis and Turkoglu] together? Do we play [Adonal] Foyle and Howard together more? Right now, our plan is to put our best players on the floor, and if something causes us to adjust, we will. Battie going down forced us to play unconventionally and that's what we're going to have to do for large parts of games."

Winning cures all ills, however, and with a 5-2 start coupled with the Heat's and Wizards' early struggles, the Magic are in position take control of the Southeast Division. That's exactly why Lewis left Seattle and why he has never looked back.

"I think it was a perfect time to move on," Lewis said. "They went young and were starting all over. I want to be in the playoffs every year and competing for a championship. They are [planning on] moving to Oklahoma and have a lot going on right now. There was always change in that organization. I didn't want to be a part of it."

Certainly the Magic are happy about that.

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