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Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson and Earl Clark, power forwards disguised as centers, tried to replace him. It took all three of them. They did a commendable job, combining for 31 points, 23 rebounds and five blocks — an all-star kind of night for [Dwight] Howard.
Howard might have been able to lend them all a hand as an extra man.
“If we have Dwight,” a teammate said. “We blow them out.”
Howard wasn’t hurt or sick. He didn’t have a good excuse. His absence was self-inflicted.
He got himself suspended with too many technical fouls. Too many arguments with the refs. Too many fits of retaliation. Too many instances where he lost his cool.
Coach Stan Van Gundy knows all this, but he has had no choice but to defend his franchise player. The old Stan might have had a few choice words, blistered his star.
But everyone walks on eggshells now around Howard.
He can leave after next season as a free agent, and frankly, Monday night is what the Magic could look like in two seasons without him. [...]
When I asked [Otis] Smith why the Magic keep complaining, he nodded toward the dressing room and said one word: “Leadership.”
Smith dares to put the onus directly on his superstar, as he should. He indicated that if Howard would stay out of the refs’ ears, teammates would follow. Howard has ignored the message.
If this loss did anything, maybe it will cue a change in Dwight’s behavior.
“We hope,” said another teammate, “that Dwight was watching.”
This one is on him.
It’s not hard to think about for Magic fans — life without Dwight Howard.
And to be frank, the Orlando Magic’s performance against the Portland Trail Blazers wasn’t that bad considering the circumstances. But it paints a stark picture that the Magic are nothing more than an ordinary team without their extraordinary superstar.