The Orlando Magic may hold a 3-0 series lead over the Charlotte Bobcats and look poised to advance to the next round of the playoffs, but they're doing it without franchise center Dwight Howard, who's tallied 16 fouls in just 83 minutes, and was disqualified in Game 3. Marcin Gortat has played reasonably well with Howard off the floor, but it's clear that the Magic won't be able to win a championship unless Howard can curb the foul habit. He even picked up a technical foul for protesting a whistle that went against him in Saturday's game.
Coach Stan Van Gundy must feel the same way because, as Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel reports, he's "ordered" Howard to study film of the fouls he's committed in this series. Brackets his:
His playing time limited all series by foul trouble, Howard told the Sentinel after Saturday's game against the Bobcats that he did not watch tape of calls made against him. Howard might have been slightly exaggerating, Van Gundy said.
But Van Gundy said, rather abruptly, immediately after Sunday's practice, "[Howard] will this time. We'll either do it this afternoon or tomorrow morning. At times, [assistant coach] Patrick [Ewing] has him watch film. I'm just telling him for sure, he will before Game 4."
Howard met with Van Gundy in the visitors' dressing room, where they spent about 15 minutes poring over the tape. When asked about the meeting, Howard said, "It's top secret — we can't tell you guys. It's a top-secret meeting. Coach told me not to say anything."
Van Gundy said that he hopes Howard will make some "adjustments" tonight against the Bobcats. They rotate three centers and willingly use their allotted 18 fouls.
John Hollinger of ESPN.com had the following to say about Howard's foul trouble in his chat last Thursday, which I tend to agree with:
Yes, some of the fouls were iffy, but big picture, he picks up a lot of offensive fouls and is Orlando's primary help defender. What do you expect is going to happen?
To me, fouling is simply the cost of doing business as an NBA center. Sometimes, one of your teammates can't keep his man in front of him, and you're not in great position to challenge the shot, so you foul. It happens. What Howard has to avoid, though is fouling on offense. 6 of his 16 fouls in this series have come on that end, which balloons to 7 if you count the loose-ball foul for which he got whistled while jockeying for offensive rebounding position. The Magic can't afford to have many empty trips against the Bobcats' staunch defense, so the loss of possession that accompanies an offensive foul is also damaging.
Howard simply has to play smarter. Watching the film should help him with that, and I anticipate he'll play a playoff-high in minutes tonight in Game 4.