PER Diem: May 13, 2009
Before Howard complains about his touches, he needs to prove he deserves them
Nine possessions. Six minutes and 45 seconds off the clock. And in that time, not one touch for the Orlando Magic's All-Star big man Dwight Howard, as a 14-point lead frittered away.
It's a big controversy Wednesday morning, and nearly everyone seems to be in agreement that the Magic blundered by not getting the ball to their superstar down the stretch. Howard shone a spotlight on this when he called out his coach, Stan Van Gundy, during the news conference after Orlando's 92-88 loss in Game 5 to the Celtics.
Here's the really weird part: All the evidence says the Magic did exactly what they should have done. Even Howard's own statements back it up.
"I don't think you're going to win a lot of games when your post player only gets 10 shots," Howard said.
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Actually, the Magic have won a lot of games when Howard has gotten only 10 shots. They were 16-7 during the regular season when Howard attempted 10 field goals or fewer, a .696 winning percentage that comes close to their .720 mark overall.
The other thing you might have noticed is that this isn't a rare event. Howard took 10 shots or fewer in 23 of the 79 games he played and averaged only 12.4 per game on the season.
Moreover, virtually no correlation exists between his shot attempts and winning. He took 12.5 shots in wins and 12.2 in losses. He took 12.6 in games Jameer Nelson played before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury and 12.2 with Rafer Alston afterward. He took 10 to 15 shots in 48 of his 79 games.
So for him to take 10 in a slow-paced playoff game isn't much of an outlier. It's actually completely, utterly normal.
Moreover, on Tuesday night the Magic lost their first postseason game in which Howard took 10 shots or fewer. They had won the previous three, including a 114-89 romp over Philadelphia in Game 6 of the first round when a suspended Howard didn't take any shots.
"You've got a dominant player. Let him be dominant," Howard said.
Really? Prove it.
Everyone is killing the Magic for not getting Howard post touches down the stretch. Have you seen this guy's post game? It's not good, especially when he's going against a wide-body like Kendrick Perkins who can get under him and muscle him into a running 10-foot hook shot.
Howard made five field goals and four turnovers Tuesday night, and that's because he couldn't score one-on-one against Perkins, just as he's been unable to do all series. Howard's baskets in this series haven't come on post isolations. They've come when somebody else has penetrated and fed him on the move, or when he has grabbed an offensive board and slammed it home.
Howard scored twice off putbacks Tuesday night, and three other times directly off passes from Hedo Turkoglu. But in post-ups, he was useless. Orlando went to him on the first two plays of the game. He missed a shot on the first and committed a turnover on the second.
"The coaches have to recognize what's working on the floor and stick with it," Howard said.
They did, and that's why Howard didn't get the ball. Orlando's three highest scorers in the game were Rashard Lewis, Alston and Turkoglu. On Orlando's last eight trips, the ball was in the hands of Lewis, Alston and Turkoglu. They accounted for all the shots and turnovers on those trips.
Yes, it would have been great if Orlando hadn't essentially played a prevent offense -- something it has done in the fourth quarter in four of the past seven games against Boston -- but that was immaterial to Howard's argument. The Magic allowed the players who had been most effective all game to take the shots during crunch time.
"When you're in a situation where guys got it going, you know everybody's moving the ball and the energy is up, you have to stick with what works," said Howard, taking a shot at Van Gundy's late substitutions.
A couple of thoughts here. First, there's a small kernel of truth in the sense that replacing Mickael Pietrus with an ice-cold J.J. Redick at the 3:56 mark was probably not the way to go. Score one for Howard.
On other hand, the two other substitutions replaced Tony Battie and Anthony Johnson with Lewis and Alston. Do you really want Battie to get more run out there instead of your leading scorer? Do you really want a scoreless Johnson on the floor instead of Alston? It's easy to question in hindsight because Lewis and Alston stopped scoring in the fourth after they had been killing the Celtics all game, but this was obviously the right percentage move.
Finally, watch what you wish for, big fella: If Van Gundy were to follow this policy, you'd be Marcin Gortat's backup. The Magic blasted Philadelphia in Game 6 with Gortat starting in the middle, and in the Boston series, Gortat has a plus/minus of plus-16 while Howard's is minus-17. When Howard checked out with 7:36 left in the third quarter Tuesday, he wasn't missed. In fact, the Magic extended their lead.
I think it's a good thing, in a way, that Howard stepped up to become more vocal about his role and that he wants the game to rest on his shoulders. I just don't understand why everyone else is jumping on what he said and ignoring the facts.
Howard normally doesn't get many shots because he's not a good one-on-one scorer, and the Magic win all the time when he takes a dozen shots or so. If he can prove he deserves more by converting some post-up chances, more power to him. If not, this is much ado about nothing.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.
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