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Dwight Howard is in relentless pursuit of perfection. No matter how tired he is, no matter what the gravity of the game, he comes out to dominate.
The guy does all the little things, but quite frankly, the rest of the Orlando Magic do very little to reward him.
When I looked critically at Dwight’s game against Charlotte on Friday, it became clear why the man’s frustrations have led to technical fouls and him calling out his teammates.
In short, the technical fouls and team bashing stems from two things: the times when he does everything right and still gets whistled, and the times when he does everything right and his team drops the ball.
It was not until he took his 17th technical foul that I started asking questions about his character. Part of me wanted to make him a victim. After all, the guy gets beat up on every night, and quite honestly gets called for stupid fouls which, if you watch carefully, are occasionally mind boggling considering the torment that he goes through in the post during a game.
The other part of me thought that Dwight should be used to the beatings and the bad calls by now. So what gives? Is he a big baby? I surveyed closely.
The first thing I noticed was how Dwight got from one end of the court to the other. He fills lanes properly, adjusts his speed and times his runs, and never fails to flash to the ball in transition. This is crucial. You will see big men all over the league take transition plays off and leave to the high flyers to finish on the fast break. Dwight is meticulous, though, and when you make and time those runs so many times throughout the course of a game, it’s going to start to kill you when, instead of getting you the ball on the block, your squad misses a transition three and you have to turn around and get back on defense before you get set.
This only gets compounded when the Magic get into a half-court set. Dwight instigates the pick-and-roll coming from the low block to the perimeter to set a screen. When the roll isn’t there, he spends the latter part of each possession finding position at multiple spots in the paint. Just watch, he moves a ton, and while that might be expected of a big man in the NBA, it has to get frustrating when he doesn’t get a touch on the ball.
Note: I am not making out Dwight to be some kind of mythical being who makes no mistakes. I am just pointing out that he earns every bit of his MVP candidacy through hard work, attention to detail, and playing the game with his head as much as he does with his body.
So that is that. Dwight does the little things right, and when you actually do all those little things, you expect results (either personal results or team results). I saw it very clearly in his body language on Friday night. When he went through all the right steps, hit all the right marks, and then watched an empty possession sail by. The announcers at the game pointed out that Dwight looked tired on Friday night. To me, he looked tired of carrying the team, and tired of depending on the mediocre offense that surrounds him. It’s the same guys who, for the most part, decided to take this last weekend off. It’s the same guys who found a way to lose to Toronto.
I’m actually surprised that Dwight hasn’t taken more technicals.
So really, technical fouls that stem from bad calls are a bit of an afterthought. It’s impossible to avoid constant contact in position battles in the post between Dwight and whoever. On Friday it was Kwame Brown attempting to keep Dwight in check, and it wasn’t anything earth shattering that happened on the court. You saw the arm bar shoving from behind on rebounds, you saw arm wrapping and slap fouls, and when you add it all up, it amounts to one more reason for Dwight to seem a little peeved when he gets “picked on” by refs after several straight minutes of strong, meticulous play.
Here’s the thing about a perfectionist’s mind. When the refs are not blowing the whistles, all seems to be well for Dwight. Just to be fair, he gets away with a ton more in the post than probably even he realizes. On back-to-back plays in the first quarter, Dwight collided with D.J. Augustin coming to the paint for no call. In fact, Dwight had no fouls until the second half in Friday’s game. That is not to say that he blatantly fouled guys and got away with murder, but indeed there are moments of slight contact that don’t get whistled that he perhaps doesn’t take into account in the heat of the moment.
So where does that all leave Dwight? Well, he’s a perfectionist, and as is the case with every perfectionist, it is hard for him to believe when he does wrong. Similarly, it is hard for him to believe that the guys on his team aren’t playing at his level. It might be something that none of us can understand, but it certainly seems to be the case with Dwight.
Fouls are going to happen, and unfortunately there will not be a time when bad calls disappear from the game. I have no problem with Dwight picking up a few tech’s along the way (so long as he can stay in games). The bigger problem for me is this delicate balance of Dwight being the team’s most valuable player and being in a situation where he has to put the team on his back and drag it through weekends like we just saw.
It goes back to some of the same issues that have been beaten into the ground all season long. The lack of consistent shooting, the lack of a star perimeter player, the ups and downs of Jameer Nelson, a horrendous bench, and what seems to be developing into a fully disgruntled Dwight Howard heading into the playoffs and a contract year.
The 17 technical fouls that Dwight has accumulated this year point to something that goes much deeper than bad attitude or the ability to control one’s emotions. They are evidence that this is becoming a tiresome situation for Dwight, and that is not a great sign for Orlando fans who want to keep their perfectionist in Orlando.