Life Without Dwight
Magic adjust to playing without their star center.
by Nick Wilke
On Sunday afternoon at the Amway Center, the Orlando Magic battled against the number one team in the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls, without their MVP candidate Dwight Howard.
Many thought that the Bulls would run away with a double-digit victory, but the Magic team was able to keep the game close in order to give themselves a shot in the fourth quarter.
Magic guard Jameer Nelson came just about two-tenths of a second away from sending the game into overtime. His 25-foot buzzer beater was waived off by officials after they looked at the replay, and the Bulls won 102-99.
Howard, who is averaging 23 points and 14 rebounds per game, was serving his one-game suspension enforced by the NBA for picking up his League-leading 18th technical foul on Wednesday against the Bobcats.
Howard was called for taking too much time and the free throw line. Out of frustration, he threw the ball away from the official which led to the technical.
The Orlando Magic (50-30) learned a lot about themselves in its loss to the Bulls (60-20) on Sunday afternoon, but the most important lesson that they learned is that they can compete against top teams even when Dwight Howard isn’t on the floor.
“One thing we wanted to wanted to do and we talked about it, we wanted to play well without Dwight because there will be stretches in the Playoffs he may not be on the court,” said Nelson after the game. “He’s going to have to get a break sometimes, and guys have to step up.”
Nelson, who finished the game with 17 points and 11 assists, thought his team played well and players stepped up to fill the void, just as he expected them to.
“We knew that we could play a great game without Dwight and we needed to,” said Nelson. “We had to go out there and prove to ourselves that we could.”
Forward Ryan Anderson got the start in Howard’s spot on Sunday, and he filled in well, scoring a career-high 28 points on 9-18 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds in the process.
Anderson had to play in the paint more often during Sunday’s game instead of roaming around the perimeter when Howard is in the game.
When Howard is on the court for the Magic, the team’s strategy is to spread the floor in order to give Howard as much room to work as possible. The Magic have an inside-out philosophy that excels with ball movement.
“Tonight, we were kind of forced to move the ball around, and forced to kind of play the way we want to play even when Dwight is in the game,” said Anderson. “We need to move the ball because we’re gonna get Dwight open shots and we’re gonna get other guys open shots if we move the ball like we did tonight.”
Anderson said he thinks the team sometimes depends on Howard too much because he is such a force down low, but every team member needs to help him with getting rebounds.
“I think all the guys that played did a great job gang rebounding, and that’s something we need to do with Dwight on the court as well,” said Anderson.
Magic reserve forward Brandon Bass recognizes that Howard is a game-changing defensive player, but that the team can’t rely on him to bail them out if the offensive players drive past them.
“Dwight saves a lot of plays for us by his presence, and things are a lot easier when he’s out there,” Bass said. “So if we could play this well defensively with him out there, then I think we’re just going to be that much of a better team.”
The Magic have two more regular season games this week, then face the Hawks in the first round of the Playoffs over the weekend.
They understand that they can’t depend on Howard on defense as much because foul trouble can certainly limit Howard’s minutes. The Magic will have to play as well as they did against the Bulls even when Howard is on the court if they want to make another Finals appearance.