Dwight Howard’s historical night in Golden State

by Andrew Kennedy

The Orlando Magic beat the Golden State Warriors 117-109 last night. Dwight Howard had 45 points, 23 rebounds and attempted an NBA-record 39 free throws, five more than the previous record of 34 set by Wilt Chamberlain during the 1961-62 season, in which he averaged 50.4 points per game.

Howard came into the game shooting just 42.6 percent from the line, a career worst. He’s been right at 59 percent the past five seasons. The trade rumors have clearly affected Howard on the court this season and as someone who doesn’t have trouble finding a reason to not give 100 percent effort level, a struggle like this isn’t surprising. Howard made just 21 of his 39 free throw attempts versus the Warriors, 54 percent.

It’s not shocking that a historical statistical night occurred against the Warriors. It happens all the time from Brandon Jenning’s 55-point night as a rookie to David Lee’s 37 point, 20 rebound, 10 assist game two years ago, the Warriors have a knack for getting the best out of their opponent.

Howard’s game is shocking only from the standpoint that he is not motivated seemingly at all to perform for the Magic this season. Just four days ago, Howard had a game versus the Sacramento Kings where he scored only five points and had four rebounds in 20 minutes.

Nevertheless, Howard is still producing at an elite level this season. He had back-to-back 24 rebound games in consecutive nights in December and is leading the league at 15.2 rebounds per game.

His performance last night truly was Chamberlain-esque as he fouled out David Lee and Andris Biedrins while Ekpe Udoh and Klay Thompson each had five fouls. The Warriors committed 36 fouls as a team and for the first time ever, Howard had nothing to complain about.

No one complains about getting foul calls more than Dwight Howard. It’s part deservedly so since he is by far the greatest winner of the genetic lottery in the NBA and dwarfs most of the other centers. Being so big and strong makes it look like he’s not receiving as much punishment as he is. Throughout history, centers have always been dealt this rough hand while only the greatest offensive ones ever (Kareem and Hakeem) were able to use finesse to get around this and still dominate.

While Howard likes to complain about foul calls on the court, he also has plenty to complain about with his organization and coaching as far as I’m concerned. Howard is head over shoulders the best center and big man in the league. Yet he is traditionally on a team that shoots almost as much three-pointers as anyone, and often overlook the big man to do so. While the formula has worked (2009 NBA Finals appearance) and makes sense, it must be an awfully tough thing for Howard to deal with.

While Howard’s post moves may not look polished enough to credit hard work during the offseason, he really does run the floor and work hard to post-up and get position as well as any other big in the league. He does this while logging pretty heavy minutes especially during the playoffs last year and big games during the regular season (played all 48 minutes one game versus the Heat last season).

Howard is by no mean not a feature of the Magic’s offense, but he does seem to not get quite enough touches as he should and instead has been forced to watch Hedo Turkoglu and Vince Carter shoot fadeaway three-pointers a little too much in his career.

What am I getting to? Of course it has to do with LeBron James. Howard has been in a similar situation as LeBron was in Cleveland in his years in Orlando and they are similar players (physically dominant, didn’t go to college and the game and efficiency comes so natural to them).

But LeBron really had it made in Cleveland compared to Howard. LeBron had everything he wanted in his hometown, the offense ran through him every play and he could dribble for all 24 seconds of the shot clock if he wanted. This is the advantage of stars that play on the perimeter in the NBA compared to the bigs.

Howard could and should be considered as valuable as LeBron. The effect that Howard has on the defensive end of the floor is unreal. Howard has played the last five seasons with no real power forward beside him (Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson mostly), old and offensive-minded wing players (Carter, Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and J.J. Redick) and little point guards that can’t guard anyone (Rafer Alston and Jameer Nelson). Yet the Orlando Magic have been the most efficient defense in the league for the past five years. Once again, the best defense in the league!

Last year, they were the third most efficient defense and the two seasons before that they were first. Sure, defensive efficiency doesn’t say everything about team defense but considering the defensive players around Howard during this time, it is incredible to think just how valuable a commodity on defense he must actually be.

If this wasn’t the era directly after Michael Jordan wouldn’t we consider the best center, Howard, to be the most valuable player in the league? What’s going to happen when Dwight ends up in a better situation with a better supporting cast? If you gave him Deron Williams or even an old Kobe Bryant does that team immediately become a dynasty no matter who else is on the floor with him?

I think those things might very well be true and Howard may be one the most underrated players in the league today. The rest of the league needs to be on alert, because a sleeping giant may very well be getting ready to wake up and wreak havoc on the rest of the NBA once he finds a better home.