Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Dwight Howard is a phenomenal basketball player and it’s a real shame his final game in a Magic jersey was not legendary, not impressive, and not even on par with what he is capable of.
Orlando will remember Dwight in several different ways. On the one hand, he was the lovable center, ever-devoted to the city of Orlando. On the other hand, he was a scoundrel, an indecisive child who got his coach fired and then left. Even another voice, the reasonable voice, is bidding Dwight good luck in Los Angeles and claiming it’s probably a better fit for him.
The one thing you won’t hear anyone remember him for in Orlando is what actually happened on the floor. That’s what’s so crazy about Dwight’s last game in an Orlando Magic uniform on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers. It doesn’t matter in the least what happened in that game. It doesn’t matter that he was playing with a jacked up back, doesn’t matter that he shot 28.6 percent from the field, doesn’t matter that he somehow shot 12-for-18 from the free-throw line, and doesn’t matter that he recorded a big ol’ double-double (20 points and 22 rebounds).
Still, though, there’s tons of intrigue in this game.
The ESPN broadcast crew on April 7 did everything in their power to uphold Dwight’s status as a superstar. Even in his early struggles, they pointed out the things he was doing right. How often do we need to hear that a screen is not something we’ll read about in the stat sheet? The truth is Dwight did a lot of things right in the game. He also did a lot of things wrong, a lot of things lazy, and a lot of things that make an optimist like me say, “thank God we don’t have to endure that style of play any longer.”
Dwight played 44 minutes in this game. That’s seriously ridiculous. The guy played more than 44 minutes in only four other games during the regular season (out of the 54 games he played in last season). So, if you’re the sadistic type, rest in the fact that at least Van Gundy got his money’s worth out of Dwight in their last dance together.
Dwight’s game against the Sixers reminds me of that scene in “Miracle” when Herb Brooks made the USA hockey team run wind sprints (“Herbies”) over and over after tying Norway in an exhibition game.
I’m going to go ahead and get this out in the open right away so I don’t get caught up passive aggressively stewing on this for the rest of the article. Dwight got bested by Spencer Hawes a few times in this game. That right there should be enough for any fan to know or recall how the rest of the game went. I’m not talking about Dwight’s stat-line for the game (20 points and 22 rebounds). I’m talking about what the stat-line for the game could have looked like (40 points and 25 rebounds).
I know his back was severely messed up, but Dwight was weak in the post, took bad shots, and shot under 30 percent from the field. Also, he got owned by Spencer Hawes every so often.
(Side note: Dwight had the ball ripped out of his hands on one possession while he was in the post backing down Spencer Hawes. A perimeter-oriented player took the ball from Dwight straightaway. Count how many times that has happened in his career.)
Death of an offensive scheme
Revisiting this game was painful for a handful of reasons, not the least of which was laboring through what will probably be the last time I ever watch the “spread the floor and give Dwight the paint” offense (four-out, one-in) we’ve come to know so well by now. The offense revolves around Dwight at center, but relies mainly on perimeter players who can move the ball and knock down shots. Dwight’s last game was no exception. The Magic spread the floor, Duhon knocked down some triples, Jason Richardson lethargically pranced around the perimeter, totally unable to get to the hole and thus guarded that way, and Jameer Nelson rode the bench with foul trouble.
What. A. Snoozefest.
The amount of time it took me to watch this agonizing game was only redeemed by the simple truth that I will never again have to watch this style of play ever again.
Orlando is in the pits. No question about it. The franchise man is gone and nothing with any major value walked through the door in return. All this adds up to an unarguably clean slate where the only direction to go is up … er, forward.
Orlando won the game, by the way. Spoiler alert.
Dwight’s injured back
No one ever really talked about this at the time because every Orlando fan was so belligerently hopeless about Orlando’s chances in the playoffs without Dwight, but he went to get surgery two weeks after this game. This wasn’t like a little growing pain in the back. This was an injury that could only be corrected by surgery. It could only be corrected by cutting his back open and fixing it. Dwight was visibly slower and less mobile in his last game. I get it. Spencer Hawes could never get the best of a healthy Dwight. Man, it’s painful to watch Dwight at 60 percent or so. It’s honestly worse than watching Shaq try to play the game of basketball in his final year or two.
Let’s shed a little light on this hero stuff. Jordan played with the flu, Favre played after his dad died, Schilling played with a bloody ankle, and Dwight played with a totally mangled back. Enough said.
No dynamic perimeter scorer
No offense to J.J. Redick, Jason Richardson, and Chris Duhon. You just can’t be successful in this system without any slashers and scorers. I double-dare you to go watch this game and count how many times someone for Orlando tried to make a move on the perimeter and get to the rim. It will be refreshing to see that perimeter game evolve in the next few seasons. Bring on Andrew Wiggins.
Speaking of slashers, Orlando really should have tried to bait Kobe into coming down to Orlando. I could only imagine that recruiting trip. Dwight and Kobe cruising on the A1A, then enjoying all-you-can-eat oysters with Glen Davis. Yeah, Kobe would’ve been on the first redeye back to Los Angeles.
This game was right after that whole scandal where Dwight got caught wanting to get Stan Van Gundy fired. Van Gundy went on the record to say he didn’t care at all and then they all tried to rally together and play basketball. Dwight wanted out but wasn’t telling anyone yet, he just all but got his coach fired, he was hurt, and despite all those things, he didn’t quit. In fact, dude played a relatively aggressive game. He rebounded well, jumped around with a bad back, and tried (unsuccessfully) to score in the post.
If there are any number of reasons to hate on Dwight, his final game is not one of them. At least the guy played as hard as he could have.
The bottom line is that he gave Orlando years and years of devoted service on and off the court. That includes his very last game against a pretty good Sixers team when he could have decided that he didn’t give a hoot.