For Magic fans, the All-Star Game was most notable for its absence. Dwight Howard receded into the background, really only making his voice heard during TNT’s pregame introductions, his dancing to “Are You Gonna Go My Way” pregame and his leading of the LeBron James chalk toss before tipoff. Howard did very very little in the All-Star Game. It may have been by design, it may not have been.
For Orlando fans who still feel like Howard does not get the credit he deserves, it might have been a little discouraging — especially considering Howard was the team’s only representative and the fears the team is receding so far into the Eastern Conference’s background that it might lead to a disappointing summer of 2012.
In the national eye, seeing Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James fly through the air in this exhibition game (along with Amar’e Stoudemire) could harm Dwight Howard’s budding MVP campaign.
There is no doubt Howard is one of the front-runners for the award. He is averaging a career high 22.8 points per game and is second in the league with 13.8 rebounds per game. In his last 10 games, Howard is averaging 21.2 points per game and 10.9 rebounds per game 24.7 points per game and 15.5 rebounds per game. But his impact in those games, where Orlando has gone 7-3, goes far beyond that.
We know it and the rest of the world knows it. His stats do not jump off the page, and that might be why some in the national media feel he is properly rated despite a lot of appreciation. But Magic fans know how much of an impact he makes and how truly under appreciated he might be.
Howard is undoubtedly one of the most valuable players in the league (and I truly believe he is among the top three or four in the running for the final award). But as Howard said in deflecting talk about his future, he is all about pushing and prodding his team to a championship. Howard can only do so much on that front.
Orlando’s season, and perhaps Howard’s MVP chances, rest on his teammates and what they do for the rest of the season.
The Magic are fourth in the East with a 36-21 record, 3.5 games behind Chicago for the third seed and 5.5 games back of Bosotn and Miami for the top seed in the East. No one foresaw Orlando struggling this much or making the trades the team did to recover.
Howard has stepped up and made his statement as the team’s leader, carrying the team for stretches (when they get him the ball). Orlando’s failure or success this season — and whether Orlando is able to keep Dwight Howard in 2012 — likely will be determined by what his teammates can do. So far many of Howard’s teammates have failed to step up to the plate.
No other player on the team is scoring more than 15.0 points per game. Jason Richardson is second on the team with 13.7 points per game since the trades. No players have been very consistent as the Magic have relied on an extremely balanced attack.
This is both a good and a bad thing as any (or all) players can go off and score at any point. But it is also a bad thing in that Stan Van Gundy has no idea where the scoring is going to come from. It could be one of the reasons Orlando’s offense has been puzzling this last month.
Orlando needs its rotation players to start making shots and using their possessions more efficiently.
Take Gilbert Arenas, for example. He is second on the team with a 24.7 percent usage rate, but he is averaging 7.9 points per game and 4.0 assists per game while shooting 34.5 percent. His numbers are down from the first quarter of the season he spent in Washignton.
Howard is going to continue to do just about everything he can individually to make his team better. For him to get that individual recognition his fans so desperately crave and for his team to reach its ultimate goal, the season rests on the supporting cast.