The Associated Press

The long wait is over for Nick Anderson.

Anderson, the first player drafted by the Orlando Magic in 1989, suffered through four non-winning seasons before the team made the leap to 50 victories and its first NBA playoff appearance this season.

"I've waited a long time for this," Anderson said of Orlando's playoff opener against Indiana tonight. "There are a lot of guys that may never get to say they were on a team that won 50 games. I can say I have."

The Magic are the No. 4 seed in the East ahead of No. 5 Indiana, which won its last eight games of the season, a franchise record.

A major change in Orlando this season was that rookie Anfernee Hardaway replaced Scott Skiles at point guard.

Many thought the pair wouldn't get along, particularly after Hardaway visited the Magic before last year's draft and predicted he would win the starting job from Skiles the NBA record-holder for assists in a game with 30 if Orlando picked him.

But Hardaway has nothing but praise for Skiles.

"Scotty really made it easy on me, and I thank him a lot for that," Hardaway said. "He was a man about it when I became the starting point guard. He still gave me tips, still met me coming off the court to point out some things during games. I'm still learning from him and he's also listening to me when I point out things. It's a real good relationship."

"I've tried to pass along what I can to Penny, but he's so good, it might not matter if he ever gets down the finer points of being a point guard," Skiles said of Hardaway. "He's so good, he can get the ball where he wants when he wants regardless of the situation, and that's not easy. He's going to get to a point where he can take over games."

In other playoff openers tonight, Miami is at Atlanta in the East, while it's Denver at Seattle and Utah at San Antonio in the Western Conference.

Tomorrow, it's New Jersey at New York and Cleveland at Chicago in the East and Portland at Houston and Golden State at Phoenix in the West.

Atlanta, the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, isn't so highly regarded in the public eye.

The Feb. 24 trade of Dominique Wilkins, the leading scorer in franchise history, to the Los Angeles Clippers for malcontent Danny Manning raised doubts about whether this was the kind of deal a contending team should make.

Manning's unhappy final years with the Clippers also caused some to question his attitude and character, and his first game at Atlanta in a Hawks uniform prompted as many boos as cheers.

Manning's performance down the stretch gives little hint that the trade damaged the team's hopes for the playoffs against the Heat, who became the 16th and last team to qualify for the playoffs by defeating Atlanta last Thursday.

It was the only time the Heat beat the Hawks in four games this season.

"Dominique was here for a very long time and is a legend in the city," Manning said. "I'm not going to replace Dominique. I'm just going to go out, play my game and do the best I can."

The Hawks were 37-16 before the Manning-Wilkins trade, a .698 percentage, and 20-9 with Manning on the roster (.690).

That's hardly a precipitous drop, but the Hawks still found it necessary to defend Manning.

"Danny is an All-Star-caliber player and is six years younger than Wilkins," Coach Lenny Wilkens said. "Any time you get an opportunity to make this kind of deal, you're kind of foolish if you don't."

Wilkens said that no one who knows Manning or deals with him in the media questions his attitude.

"He has outstanding character, and the fact that he was unhappy there (Los Angeles) doesn't belittle him at all," Wilkens said.

Seattle is the top seed in the West and has homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs because of its NBA-best 63-19 record, five games better than Houston's mark. But like the Atlanta Hawks in the East, the Supersonics also feel they haven't gotten the respect they deserve.

"When they've talked about the West, they've talked about Phoenix or Houston. People have said all along that we're going to fall apart sooner or later," Seattle forward Detlef Schrempf said.

Denver, despite a 2-2 split of the season series with the Sonics, matches Miami's 42-40 record as the worst among the 16 playoff teams. Read Next Article