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Vince Carter Ends Worst Slump of Career

Feb 3, 2010 – 12:00 AM
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Tim Povtak

Tim Povtak %BloggerTitle%

Vince CarterORLANDO, Fla. -- This wasn't exactly the Vince Carter of old, but it sure was better than the Vince Carter of late.

The Orlando Magic feel a little better now about the chances of defending their Eastern Conference title and staying within sight of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half of this season.

The worst slump of Carter's career has been pronounced over -- at least for now.

"I can still do everything I used to do,'' Carter said confidently after getting 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in a 99-82 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks Tuesday. "It might be that January just wasn't my month.''

Carter, 33, had his most satisfying game in a Magic uniform Tuesday, assuring teammates and coaches that his recent struggles were a thing of the past.

Carter, who came to the Magic this summer to become their late-game, go-to scorer, skidded off the runway in January when he averaged only 8.7 points and 28.4 percent shooting, a baffling drop off that threatened to wreck the season's championship expectations. He was terrible.

The Magic (33-16) already have five more losses than they did at this time last season when now-departed Hedo Turkoglu was their late-game guy. Carter, conversely, had been so bad in January, that Magic coach Stan Van Gundy had stopped using him in the fourth quarters.

After averaging more than 20 points in each of the last 10 seasons, Carter spent January looking like a former star player whose career had taken a sudden nosedive.

Maybe it was the arrival this week in Orlando of Lawrence Frank, who coached Carter for more than four years in New Jersey, that sparked his return.

Frank, as the invited guest of Van Gundy, spoke briefly with Carter Tuesday morning, then watched the game from the stands. He declined after the game to talk publicly about Carter, or anything that was said between them.

"I'm just trying to be invisible this week,'' Frank said.

"I believe in my game. I trust in my game. I didn't suddenly forget how to play."
- Vince Carter
Carter said his spark Tuesday had nothing to do with Frank, whom he blamed only for bringing bad weather to Central Florida.

"We talked a little, but it wasn't even about basketball,'' Carter said. "I believe in my game. I trust in my game. I didn't suddenly forget how to play. The only frustration was everyone harping on it, continually asking me about it.''

Carter came out blazing in the first half Tuesday, leading his team in scoring (15), rebounding (6) and assists (4) as the Magic took command of the game before intermission.

Five of Carter's six first-half baskets came on hard drives through the lane. For whatever reason, he was aggressive again instead of tentative, which he had been lately. He was a lesser factor in the second half.

"He just has to remember who he is. This is a guy who has had unbelievable success in his career,'' Van Gundy said. "He had one bad month, but this guy has had an incredible career. That's what defines him. He just has to keep that in mind.''

Carter, now in his 12th NBA season, is 49th on the all-time scoring list with 18,910 points.

Van Gundy denied an earlier report that had considered replacing Carter in the lineup with backup J.J. Redick and making the seven-time All-Star a sixth man. He reiterated that the Magic's only chance to win big this season will be if Carter is playing a prominent role behind Dwight Howard.

"There's not much to fault tonight,'' Van Gundy said. "Sometimes when you're in a slump, you have to get off to a good start or you just think `oh, it's going to be another one of those night.' He's got to get away from that, just remember who he is and play with great confidence every night.''

The Magic won for the sixth time in the last seven games, yet they are five games behind Cleveland in the loss column. They beat the Cavaliers convincingly last spring in the Eastern Conference final.

The Magic Tuesday were without starting point guard Jameer Nelson, yet the return of Carter more than made up for it.

"I just took the initiative to step it up and make plays,'' Carter said. "I'm not big on stats, but I just told myself to be the person, the player, you've been the last 11 years, and that's what I'll continue to do.''
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