Dwight Howard went to the free-throw line for an NBA regular-season record 39 attempts because Mark Jackson wanted to give his team the best chance to win. Considering that him missing 18 free-throws is the equivalent of nine turnovers and that Andris Biedrins, Ekpe Udoh and David Lee had no prayer of defending Howard one-on-one, it was a nice strategy.
Save the outrage about not enjoying the procession to the line in Orlando’s eventual 117-109 win. Jackson, the first-year Warriors coach who did the same thing to DeAndre Jordan in his first game on the bench, doesn’t care about your viewing needs. Nor should he. He’s doing his job.
Know who else did it well? Stan Van Gundy and his coaching staff.
Not just in Oakland against the Warriors, but throughout a critical early week in Orlando’s season.
After a disappointing home performance against the Chicago Bulls, the Magic left for the West coast eager to get away and pick up some necessary practice time. Like most teams in the league, the Magic had to put things together on the fly and haven’t had time to really work on anything more than the basics. They had consecutive days off for the first time all season after dealing with Sacramento, handed the Blazers their first loss at the Rose Garden and escaped Jackson, Monta Ellis and a much faster team on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Magic’s work on the road isn’t over with a Monday meeting with the Knicks up next, but heading back to their customary time zone with three consecutive wins offers an opportunity to exhale and move forward without a hopeless feeling setting in. Even the MRI Jason Richardson has scheduled for Friday has a feeling of optimism to it.
Good vibes and three days between games? That opportunity won’t arrive again until the All-Star break. The outlook then may not be as rosy. Howard definitely won’t be looking ahead to three proactive days of peace.
Over a month after the Magic center confirmed his trade demand, he’s done nothing but play like there’s no tomorrow. That includes rescinding his trade demand. He still wants out, GM Otis Smith knows it and there won’t be anything done about it until after the All-Star break. Unless the Lakers ponied up Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, this was always how it was going to go.
You can’t host an All-Star game without the featured attraction and you can’t appease fans post-lockout trotting out Brook Lopez, even if he were 100 percent. So, Howard remains in Orlando. Stuck, though there are certainly worse situations to be in.
Ellis and Nate Robinson exposed the Magic’s ever-present weakness of limited perimeter quickness and there’s no backup 7-footer currently on the roster capable of giving Howard a breather, but his teammates can play. They’re stand-up guys. He likes them. They can beat most teams together.
It remains to be seen how high the Magic can fly between now and the March 15 trade deadline, but it would still be hard to believe that they gamble on keeping Howard, even if at full strength come deadline, they’re positioned as a Top-3 seed. The risk of him leaving is too great. The extra $21 million he can earn by signing an extension isn’t enough to buy out the desire to play in a larger market.
The waiting game continues. Tick-tock.
The Magic host the Nets on March 16. Will Howard be in attendance? If he is, he won’t be on New Jersey’s team. Odds are better, however, that he won’t be at Amway Center.
For Orlando, winning between now and then sure beats the alternative. Howard isn’t hurting his market value. Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick have been impressive in demonstrating their growth. The Magic even beat the Kings with Howard playing spectator due to foul trouble.
That effort in Sacramento provided a great start to an important week, even if it came with ominous undertones that they better get used to winning without him down the road.
Tony Mejia is senior writer of Pro Basketball News. Follow him on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA