ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Hedo Turkoglu has always been popular in Turkey. He is the first from his country to play in the NBA, a signing that brought a national celebration.
But that was just a warmup. Turkoglu is in his eighth season in the league, and the 6-foot-10 forward is a back reason why the Orlando Magic have become one of the Eastern Conference's top team. This has not gone unnoticed in Turkey.
``Right now, it's really crazy - all day, every day in the newspaper, on TV and all this stuff,'' Turkoglu said. ``When my dad and brother go out, they really catch it.''
Turkoglu is averaging 19.5 points, second on the team behind All-Star Dwight Howard. His scoring is up from his roughly 14-point average in three years with Orlando.
Perhaps more important, his other stats are up, too. He's averaging 6.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists, and this month he had his first triple-double.
said. ``You would always see flashes of great play, games where he would put it all together. This is the longest period of time that he's ever done it.''
Turkoglu almost landed his first All-Star spot, but the NBA coaches who vote for reserves didn't choose him.
``I would be lying if I said I didn't want to be there,'' Turkoglu said.
Turkoglu, laid back and so approachable that even rookies will joke with him, keeps it in perspective.
``It was just going to be 'All-Star Hedo Turkoglu' - nothing else would change,'' he said. ``I still have to go play out there, do the things that I've been doing and just play my game.''
And he's been doing that when it counts. Turkoglu averages six fourth-quarter points, fifth in the league behind LeBron James (9.1), Dwyane Wade (7.5), Joe Johnson (6.6) and Kobe Bryant (6.5).
And he's been responsible lately for three game-winners - a 3-pointer Jan. 27 over the Boston Celtics, a fade-away jumper Dec. 31 against the Chicago Bulls and two go-ahead free throws Feb. 1 against Philadelphia.
``It's the best I've seen him play,'' Boston star Ray Allen said after Turkoglu's shot beat the Celtics. ``He's always been a great shooter, but he's very aggressive, and he's given the team another dimension I don't think it even had last year.''
When the Magic had two tries to score with less than 30 seconds left in an eventual loss to New Jersey last month, Orlando went to Turkoglu both times.
``We certainly go to him, put the ball in his hands a lot down the stretch in games because of his ability to handle, shoot and make plays,'' Van Gundy said.
The first-year Magic coach has helped broaden the dimensions of Turkoglu's game.
``Before I was just standing out there waiting for somebody to create a situation for me so I could make the shot,'' Turkoglu said. ``But right now I'm the guy who's making that decision - just being aggressive, active, driving, kicking, going to the hole.''
Turkoglu, who played with Sacramento and San Antonio before joining Orlando in 2004, has thrived with the addition of Rashard Lewis and subtraction of Grant Hill. Last year, as Van Gundy notes, the Magic had the ball in Hill's hands as much as anyone but the point guard.
``Now, Turk has sort of taken on that role for us,'' the coach said.
And Lewis' deep threat enables the Magic to spread the floor and open shots for Turkoglu or Howard.
``Orlando wouldn't be in this position without (Turkoglu), as far as how they're playing basketball,'' Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince said. ``He's a really great punch for Dwight, and also it takes pressure off Rashard.''
Though more aggressive, Turkoglu works to keep an even keel in games. He realizes that calm and patience are crucial for someone taking a last-second shot. He also tries to pace himself over 48 minutes.
``I just try not to force things, just keeping my self-confidence. And when the right time comes I'll be ready physically, mentally,'' he said. ``And coach has confidence in all the other guys, too.''

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