- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
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Instead, his scowl and body language spoke volumes.
On Sunday, after a night to sleep off some of the frustration, Howard didn't bother to mince words as Orlando tried to regroup from a 103-93 loss.
Howard scored a Magic playoff record 46 points to go along with 19 rebounds in the most prolific playoff game of his six-year career. But the only statistic that resonated with him Sunday was the 1-0 series lead the Hawks carry into Game 2 on Tuesday.
"It's not about me. It's about the team," Howard said after the Magic's hourlong film session Sunday at Amway Center. "I could have scored 100 points and we still could have lost. So it's not about me. I wasn't frustrated after the game. I was mad, because I hate losing. Especially to the Hawks."
The Magic were back on the court less than 16 hours after the loss, trying to figure out how they were able to get so much production from Howard against his hometown team yet come away with their fourth loss in five games against Atlanta.
A night after becoming only the sixth player in playoff history to finish with at least 45 points and 15 rebounds in a losing effort, Howard mostly deferred, sitting back quietly at Orlando's postgame news conference as point guard Jameer Nelson answered the majority of the questions.
But Howard spoke up Sunday and challenged his team to play better defensively. As dominant as Howard was for the Magic inside, the Hawks were equally unstoppable on the perimeter because of their height advantage. The trio of Jamal Crawford (6-foot-6), Joe Johnson (6-7) and Josh Smith (6-9) shot over smaller Magic defenders, finishing with a combined 63 points.
The Hawks' hot shooting, coupled with their refusal to double-team Howard and create open looks for Orlando's 3-point shooters, was a formula that stymied the Magic. But Howard didn't overanalyze the significance of Saturday's loss.
"They had a great shooting night," Howard said. "It's one game. That's why it's called a series, you know. It's not college, where it's one game and you're done. Because if it was, they had an amazing game, just like some college teams in the NCAA tournament. We just have to continue to play, continue to believe in each other."
Howard said his faith in his teammates hasn't wavered. But coach Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith, the Magic's president of basketball operations, both mentioned Hedo Turkoglu as one of the key players they needed more from to complement Howard. Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas shot a combined 6-for-22 from the field and struggled defensively.
The Magic couldn't have asked for much more from Howard, though. He was 16-for-23 from the field, 14-for-22 from the free throw line and played most of the fourth quarter with five fouls. (He also had eight turnovers.) But all of that positive production still wasn't enough.
Van Gundy pointed out Sunday that his teams have rallied to win series before. Two years ago, the Magic lost an opening game to Philadelphia and later trailed Boston 3-2 before advancing to the NBA Finals. But this is a different Magic team, one that went through a midseason makeover after two major trades. Orlando has only four players left from the team that lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2009 Finals.
"I don't worry about that stuff," Van Gundy said. "I think people love to talk about all the psychological things, the mindset of guys and all of that. We need to play better. What it comes down to is are we going to be able to contain Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford? Are we going to be able to play their pick-and-rolls better? Are we going to have an answer to their post-ups? Can we get other guys more involved offensively? And can we not turn the ball over 18 times?"
I could have scored 100 points and we still could have lost. So it's not about me. I wasn't frustrated after the game. I was mad, because I hate losing. Especially to the Hawks.
”-- Dwight Howard
One thing Van Gundy isn't concerned about is Howard's confidence. Smith had lengthy conversations, individually, with both Van Gundy and Howard on the practice court after Sunday's session.
"Obviously, we didn't do something right," Smith said of the lack of support around Howard in Game 1, aside from Nelson's 27 points. "Other guys have to step up and play. We have to get more balanced scoring. I don't think [Howard is] frustrated at all with the game as it stands right now."
Van Gundy also expects Howard to bounce back and carry the team again if necessary.
"I don't worry about him much with that," Van Gundy said. "Dwight's got a great resilliency in everything he does. He's got a great outlook on life, and he stays very positive. I worry a lot more about other guys than I do about him."
Apparently, the Hawks aren't too worried about Howard, either. Orlando was 10-6 this season in games when Howard scored at least 30 points. So Atlanta's players don't anticipate drastically changing their strategy of defending Howard straight up and containing Orlando's other key players.
"He's a load down there," Johnson said Sunday. "And our bigs understand that. But if he can score 50, 60 points, as long as we limit those guys around him, I think we'll be good. I don't think he can beat us by himself. I don't think he can keep up this pace this whole series."
Howard doesn't take offense to that strategy.
"That's fine," he said. "I just have to keep playing. We'll be OK. I was frustrated about losing the game the way we did. But at the same time, we're going to be fine. Our guys are still confident. I believe. We all believe. It's one game. There's no need for us to panic and feel like we have no chance. We believe we're still going to win. We just have to do little things for us to be successful."