Dwight Howard has spent all six years of his professional career in an Orlando Magic uniform, appearing in 540 of a possible 543 regular- and post-season games during that span. His durability and skill have made him one of the league's top three players. Today, OPP looks back at his five best games as part of an occasional, retrospective series highlighting top Magic performances.
|Game No. 5: Jan. 12, 2010, at Sacramento Kings|
Howard injected life into a January affair against a surefire lottery team this evening with a performance that would have made Hakeem Olajuwon proud. He was everywhere on both ends of the court, and the Kings predictably didn't have an answer. Going in, one should have expected Howard to impose his will, but he outperformed any reasonable estimation of what his final numbers might be.
What's more, the Magic needed every bit of what he gave them. Despite the lopsided final margin, the Kings led, 78-76, heading into the final period. Howard tied the Magic in scoring in that period--he and Mickael Pietrus both had nine--while also throwing in nine rebounds and two blocked shots. The Kings, as a team, had seven rebounds in the final frame.
There's also this fact, which I noted at the time:
Howard became the first player since Tim Duncan in January 2009 to tally at least 30 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks in a game. Adding 3 steals to those criteria shows he's the first player since LeBron James in January 2008 to post such numbers.
This game would be a resume-topper for a number of the league's centers, but in my estimation, it's merely Howard's fifth-best. We'll look at nos. 4 through 1 after the jump.
|Game No. 4: Feb. 24, 2010, at Houston Rockets|
Just 22 seconds into this game, it appeared as though Howard would finish with a modest line, as he picked up two fouls in that span. But that time on the bench must have done him some good, as he managed to score 30 points without missing a shot attempt from the floor. He became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1969 to score 30 points and grab 15 boards while shooting 1.000 from the field (with a minimum of 10 shot attempts).
Though the Magic had this game pretty well in hand throughout, I had to rank this performance ahead of his all-around destruction of Sacramento due to his perfection from the field. Eddy Rivera broke his night down in better detail than I could ever hope to in this post, which I recommend to anyone, but particularly those people who find Howard's offense lacking.
|Game No. 3: Nov. 12, 2008, at Oklahoma City Thunder|
The Oklahoma City Thunder played this game without Kevin Durant, their top player, so they really didn't stand a chance, at least not on offense. But if Nick Collison, Joe Smith, and Johan Petro could manage to leverage Howard out of his favorite spots on offense, maybe they could bottle the Magic up enough to make the game competitive. But they couldn't, so they didn't, and Howard rolled to the first--and, to date, only--triple-double of his career. Here's what Kelly Dwyer wrote about the game:
Dwight Howard had 30 points, 19 rebounds, and 10 blocks in this game. Mentioning anything else would be doing you a disservice.
Indeed. About all I can add is that the Magic let Howard play a few garbage-time minutes in the fourth quarter, hoping to get him to an even 20 rebounds for that tidy, 30-point, 20-rebound, 10-block line. That final board eluded him, though, so he had to settle for 30, 19, and 10. "Settle."
Whom did Howard victimize with his blocks? Rookie Russell Westbrook took the brunt of the punishment, as Howard sent 3 of his offerings back, equalling the number of shots Westbrook converted on the night. He sent Desmond Mason and Earl Watson away twice each. He dismissed Robert Swift, Collison, and Smith once each to round it all out, with Smith being his last victim.
|Game No. 2: Feb. 17, 2009, vs. Charlotte Bobcats|
|W, 107-102 (OT)||47||45||19||0||1||8||16/23||13/18|
I assure you I have a perfectly legitimate reason for not listing this performance as the best of Howard's career. But before we get to that game, let's first appreciate all Howard did on this particular night. Really. 45 and 19 is a heckuva line, even before considering the blocks. And he did it against Emeka Okafor, who rated 10th in the entire league in points-per-possession allowed that season, according to Synergy Sports Technology. And as the final score indicates, Orlando needed what he gave it that night. This game was close throughout, with Charlotte holding a six-point lead after the third quarter and neither team leading by more than nine points. In addition to scoring 11 of Orlando's 27 fourth-quarter points, he gave the Magic something that didn't show up in the stat-sheet: a bone-crushing screen on the Bobcats' Gerald Wallace on the Magic's final possession of regulation, which freed J.J. Redick to sink the game-tying three-pointer.
Also consider the context: this game was Orlando's first after the 2009 All-Star break and fifth since losing Jameer Nelson for the season due to a separated shoulder. The Magic had gone 3-1 prior to this contest, but it had become clear that the point guard rotation of Anthony Johnson, the recently acquired Tyronn Lue, and Hedo Turkoglu wouldn't be tenable. This gutty, Howard-led win restored a bit of faith, at least among the fanbase. As it happened, Chris Paul's New Orleans Hornets eviscerated the Magic the next night, which may have influenced the team's decision to acquire Rafer Alston the very next day.
|Game No. 1: May 30, 2009, vs. Cleveland Cavaliers|
If you wanted to flip-flop this game with the last one, I can't say that I'd blame you. But I couldn't rank a 40/14 outing to clinch the Magic's first NBA Finals appearance in 14 years any lower than first on this list. The outcome here wasn't in doubt after halftime--the Magic led the Cavaliers by 18 at intermission--which meant each of Howard's baskets in the second half was like icing on the cake. A suitably raucous Amway Arena crowd cheered Howard's every move as he buried Cleveland, one possession at a time. Here's what I wrote about Howard in my recap that night:
He dribbled through or spun around single coverage. He split or passed out of double teams. The Cavs had no answer for anything he did. None. In the most important game of his professional career, he rose to the challenge.
Not that pouring it on the Cavs' frontline of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao, and Smith was a surprise at this point, as Howard had averaged 23 points and 12.8 rebounds on 71.8% True Shooting in the five Conference Finals games leading up to this one.
In short, though, this performance is clearly the Magic's best from that game, which one could argue is their most significant win in recent memory: the other contender for that title is their first NBA Finals win, which came 10 days later.