Commentary

PER Diem: Dec. 10, 2008

A big-man showdown turned into a lesson on post defense for Greg Oden, writes John Hollinger.

Updated: December 10, 2008, 7:05 PM ET
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

Dwight HowardJonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesThe Greg Oden-Dwight Howard matchup Tuesday wasn't the battle it was advertised as.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- "Do your work early."

That's a common refrain you'll hear from veteran post defenders. If you meet your man high and make him go around you, he can't get deep post position, and if he can't get that real estate, it's a lot harder for him to score.

Daily Gems
Here are John Hollinger's top five NBA observations for Wednesday. Insider Insider

• Orlando's poor strength of schedule
• Cavs are the league's top dog
• Detroit's slide, Washington's rise
• Three unbelievable MVP candidates
• West playoff bar keeps rising

That's a lesson Greg Oden is still learning, after Orlando's Dwight Howard beat him early and often on duck-ins close to the basket in the Blazers' 109-108 loss to the Magic on Tuesday.

Howard scored 10 points in 11 minutes when he was matched head-to-head against Oden, drawing four fouls on the rookie big man by repeatedly getting post position within inches of the basket. Oden was yanked for good just 2:53 into the second half, turning an anticipated low-post showdown into a nonevent.

Before the game, I had talked to Magic coach Stan Van Gundy about how going against somebody his own size changes the game for Howard, but it was clear Tuesday that it changed things much, much more for Oden. He never has had to contend with players his own size before, so it never really hurt him to allow an opponent to get such deep position -- he was always big enough to reject the shot afterward.

Against Howard, however, Oden was punished repeatedly for the same tactic -- much as he was earlier this season in a 13-minute, five-foul performance against Phoenix's Shaquille O'Neal.

The good news for Portland is that Oden could sit back and watch a veteran do what he couldn't. Joel Przybilla came off the bench and limited Howard to just four points for the rest of the game by making him catch the ball much farther from the hoop.

Unfortunately for the Blazers, the Magic made 14 of 27 3s, including Hedo Turkoglu's crazy bank shot at the end, to hand Portland its first home loss. But if Oden can take away a lesson in post defense from the setback, Portland will be much better off in the long run.

A few other tidbits from the best game I've seen this season:

• The battle of the league's three best rebounders that I referenced in Monday's Insider Gems didn't materialize -- partly because nobody was missing any shots, but mostly because two of the three contestants were nonfactors.

Oden, of course, couldn't stay on the court, but Howard was dealing with a strained stomach muscle that seemed to limit him on the glass more than it did on offense. "It was like he couldn't jump," said Van Gundy, who said Howard was reluctant to make a reaching-up motion for the ball that would stress the muscle. Howard had "just" seven boards, and if I recall correctly, at least two of those were picked up off the floor.

• Van Gundy casually mentioned that rookie Courtney Lee was his best on-ball defender; he played 20 minutes and spent much of that time guarding Brandon Roy. The rook's quickness is apparent on both sides of the ball, and he might stay as a rotation fixture even when Mickael Pietrus returns.

• Przybilla made five of his six shots from the field, snapping out of an 11-for-15 "slump," and is now shooting 81.6 percent from the field. Unusually, he even made a shot with his right hand. Although Przybilla is right-handed, nearly all his nondunks are short flips with the left; on Tuesday, he extended that range to six feet to make a banker in the lane.

• We might be seeing some serious regression to the mean from Nicolas Batum. After a hot start, he's been scoreless in four of his past five games -- a performance that's much more in line with his numbers from Europe a year ago. On Tuesday, he looked befuddled, and it probably didn't help that Portland's opening-minute play to get him going with an alley-oop instead resulted in a turnover. In 83 December minutes, Batum is 1-for-10 with six turnovers and hasn't earned a free throw.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.