Before last night's meeting with the Atlanta Hawks, exactly two weeks went by without Dwight Howard scoring 20 or more points in a game for the Orlando Magic. It hasn't mattered much since the Magic have gone 6-1 in that span (which is scary, if you think about it) but it has raised some eyebrows from observers trying to figure out what's wrong with Howard. The main issue for Howard, since the start of the regular season, has been his ability to stay on the floor consistently. Foul trouble has plagued Howard in nearly every game. As such, even though Howard's defense has been relatively fine, he hasn't been able to make as much of an impact on offense lately. In yesterday's contest on Thanksgiving, Howard was finally able to break out of a mini-funk on the offensive side of the ball (22 points, 9-14 FG, 4-9 FT - shot attempts tied for a season-high).
Aided by the fact that Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia couldn't effectively guard Howard, Orlando made sure that it got its big fella the basketball. Howard made sure to ask and demand the basketball for good measure, too. In the first half, Howard didn't do much damage on offense (6 points) but the second half was a completely different story (16 points).
In the third quarter, the Magic ran a number of 4-out/1-in offensive sets for Howard and he was able to get things going on offense in the post. The most notable of the possessions occurred early in the period when Howard faced up his defender on the left block, faked baseline, attempted a running lefty hook and finished the play on the right block. One word to describe the sequence - smooth. In the instances (in these cases, during the fourth quarter) where Howard wasn't operating with his back to the basket, Anthony Johnson was able to execute a 1/5 pick & roll with him for a monster alley-oop dunk. A few possessions later, Howard repaid the favor by posting up during a 4-out/1-in offensive set and kicking it out to Johnson, who was able to make a three.
All in all, Orlando did an excellent job of mixing things up offensively during its massive second-half run - like posting up Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter on back-to-back possessions - and remembering (but sometimes forgetting) to operate inside-out when executing its half-court sets. Working the ball through Howard paid dividends for the Magic because it broke down the Hawks' defense. It forced Atlanta to help on Howard, thus opening things up for the Orlando shooters around the perimeter, and eventually catching its opponent scrambling for position. A systematic defensive breakdown, it was.
Likewise, it helped that Howard finished with a season-high 41 minutes. Howard's per-minute numbers have been nearly the same on offense as they were last year, but his per-game averages have dipped because of a decrease in minutes due to the aforementioned foul troubles. Thus, the chatter about Howard's struggles.
But, thanks to a favorable matchup, Dwight Howard was able to play one of his best games of the year in his hometown.