Apr 20 2011, 01:46 PM
- Staff Members
- October 12, 2004
Maybe now, after the 88-82 Game 2 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, Magic fans can relax a little and quit worrying about the day Dwight Howard may someday leave Orlando and start relishing the magnificent nights he remains here. Nights like Tuesday when he scored 33 points, yanked down 19 rebounds and turned the Hawks back into Hummingbirds.
On a night when he hit 9-of-12 shots and 15-of-19 free throws and everybody else on the team went a miserable 18-of-66 from the field, Howard played all 48 minutes, willed the Magic to victory and saved the season. He was Superman once again, rescuing Lois Lane, er, Hedo Turkoglu just in the nick of time.
"It's important for me to come out and play as hard as I can, not only for my team but for our city," Howard said.
"Dwight was phenomenal," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy added."The energy he put into a game of this magnitude for 48 minutes was just incredible."
Howard was named Defensive Player of the Year for the third straight time earlier this week, and if there were any justice he'd be named the league MVP, too. Defensive Player of the Year does not do the man justice. This is a guy who had 46 points and 19 rebounds in a Game 1 loss and followed that up with 33 and 19 in Game 2. Defensive Player of the Year? Sounds to me like he's the Offensive Player of the Playoffs, too.
Whether it's another month, another year or another decade, Magic fans should savor every moment of the time Dwight graces Amway Center with his heart, his hustle and his desire to do the dirty work.
When he was asked what he would like to say to the one voter who completely left him off the Defensive Player of the Year ballot, Howard replied politely, "I'll try harder next year."
When he was asked about the toll it must take on his body to play all 48 minutes against a team as big and physical as the Hawks, Howard said, "I'll sleep when I die. That's when I'll take my rest. Until then, while I'm still here on earth, it's time to go to work."
Do you know how lucky you are, Magic fans? It's rare when you actually get to watch a high school kid grow into a legend right before their eyes. And, of course, this is why Orlando fans anguish: Because they know how important these playoffs are to Dwight's future in Orlando. It certainly didn't help ease their worried minds a few days ago when one ESPN "insider" speculated that Howard will be traded by the Magic this summer.
Forget the speculation about Dwight's future and savor the coronation of Dwight's greatness. Van Gundy said something very wise a couple of months ago when he was talking about all the hullabaloo surrounding Carmelo Anthony's departure from Denver and the resulting speculation about whether Dwight would stay in Orlando. Van Gundy's message – and I'm paraphrasing – was essentially this: Why do American sports fans and media spend so much time and effort worrying about what might happen down the road rather than enjoying what's right in front of them now?
And what is right in front of Magic fans at this juncture in time is a once-in-a-lifetime player. Sometimes I wonder if Howard is appreciated enough, not only locally but nationally. Do we realize what we are watching? Do we understand that he is not only the greatest Magic player of all-time, but one of the greatest NBA players of all-time? We have another Russell and Chamberlain in our midst.
Earlier this week, Howard became the first player in history to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award three successive times. Matt Guokas, former Magic coach and TV color commentator, has contended for quite some time that Howard is the greatest defender in NBA history, even greater than Bill Russell. As every season passes and every Howard blocked shot is rejected into the fifth row, the more I believe Guokas, who used to play with Chamberlain and against Russell.
Howard is not only a greater defensive force than Bill Russell, he's a greater defensive weapon than Dick Butkus, Ozzie Smith and the double-barrel 12 gauge.
Van Gundy, too, wonders if Howard is appreciated like he should be."Locally, if you see him night after night, you realize how good he is," Van Gundy said. "On a national level, though, I think people realize he's good, but for some reason it doesn't translate into people thinking of him at the same level as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or Dwyane Wade."
Van Gundy theorizes that because Dwight is so much better than every other big man in the league that there is no individual matchup, no "clash of the titans" that excites the American sporting public like Chamberlain-Russell or Shaq-Hakeem once did.
Dwight has no peer.
He has no rival.
He is the best of the best.
Enjoy the ride, Orlando, no matter how long it lasts.
Black and Blue
Apr 20 2011, 03:32 PM
Apr 20 2011, 05:42 PM