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Magic's title hopes hinge on Carter

With the midseason mark fast approaching, enough time has lapsed to ask the question: Are the Orlando Magic better with Vince Carter than Hedo Turkoglu?

The answer, thus far, is no.

At 25-12, the Magic are four wins shy of last year's 37-game mark. Granted, Turkoglu was in his fourth year with Orlando and was already simpatico with Magic mainstays Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis. The ball-dominating Carter, while statistically solid (17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists) has, at times, disrupted the even flow of the offense -- a fact Magic players, such as Lewis, have publicly acknowledged. It doesn't help, either, that Carter is shooting a career low 39.2 percent. There is even talk of Carter's ceding his starting role to (gulp) J.J. Redick and coming off the bench regularly for the first time in his career.

Still, regardless of whether the Magic are better with Carter, there is no question they need a productive Carter to have any hope of another Finals run. In the Magic's four-game skid last week, Carter shot 20.5 percent (8-for-39). He went 1-for-2 in a loss Washington before leaving early with a separated shoulder.

As dominating as Howard is in the low post, and as consistent as Lewis can be on the perimeter, Carter is arguably the only player on the Magic's roster capable of creating his own shot late in games. That's a required asset for all championship teams (see Bryant, Kobe; Pierce, Paul).

(All stats and records are through Jan. 10.)

NBA Power Rankings
1Cleveland Cavaliers
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6Orlando Magic
Last Week: 3
Over an 82-game season, losing streaks will happen. But a four-game skid that includes losses to Chicago, Indiana and Washington? That should never happen, not for a team with title aspirations. "We need much better energy out of our starting unit -- not just at the start of games, but throughout the game," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "It's almost like they're waiting for the game to slow down, and there's no reason for that. We've fallen into some habits of only playing certain minutes of the game."
 
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Phoenix Suns (23-14)
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Last Week: 8
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