Dwight Howard did everything he could to get the Magic a win Wednesday night outside of making two free throws with six seconds left in overtime that could have tied the game or given the Magic a one-point lead. His 29-point, 20-rebound effort included six points and five rebounds in overtime and 13 points in the first quarter. He was doing a lot of the work for the team in an effort that ultimately fell short.
Put aside the free throws for a second. Those free throws did not completely decide the game, although that play came at an incredibly critical time and you have to expect more from your best player late in the game.
The thing to be more concerned about coming out of Wednesday’s loss is not Howard’s missed free throws in overtime. Rather it should be how this team plays when Dwight Howard has big scoring games.
Last night was the 12th time Howard has scored at least 25 points in a game this season. So far, though, Orlando is 6-6 in those games. Everyone wants Howard to be a better offensive option and a go-to guy on that end of the floor and he has become more of that. But, as you can see, the results when the Magic rely on Howard to carry the offense is pretty mixed.
You would think letting your best player score would be a good thing for the team. But often it leads to standing around and watching and a general inactivity on offense.
That is what appeared to happen Wednesday night in New Orleans.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Howard had a 26.4 usage percentage last night and a -1 plus/minus rating, second best on the team by one point (Jason Richardson was a +0). Despite Howard having a supposedly good game, the Magic did not play particularly well when he was on the floor.
The game probably most similar to last night’s game was Orlando’s loss to Portland at the beginning of that tell-tale West Coast road trip before the trades. There Dwight Howard scored 39 points and had a usage rate of 36.5 percent as Orlando’s offense stalled and the Trail Blazers ran roughshod over an uninspired team on the road.
There Howard had an incredible offensive output, but was almost the only player to get going offensively. Three other players (Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter) scored in double figures and none of those guys scored more than 11 and Nelson shot a horrid 4 of 14.
Something similar seemed to happen again with Jason Richardson scoring 20 points and putting in a few late 3-pointer to get Orlando into overtime. It is probably a testament to how much better the Magic are that they were able to compete and nearly win a game when so many players were shooting poorly and the team was relying, perhaps over-relying, on Howard.
His second highest scoring game was a 32-point performance against Washington where he scored the game-winning basket on a tip in. That was also not one of Orlando’s finer performances (the team posted a 113.3 offensive rating, but gave up a 112.2 rating to Washington). Quentin Richardson scored 20 points there and Nelson added 11. No one else scored in double figures. This was before the trade, but the balanced scoring has been a trademark post trade and that did not happen here clearly.
Howard used 31.8 percent of the possessions in that game. It was hardly a look at efficiency in that game. The Magic raced out to an early lead and had to hold on until the end to secure a hard-fought victory. One that probably should not have been as close as it was.
Howard’s other 30-point game this season was slightly more comfortable and might provide the formula for how to succeed when Howard is scoring. The Magic defeated the Nets in the fourth game of the season and got a more balanced scoring effort.
Four of the five starters scored in double figures, including Jameer Nelson’s 20 points. Howard still used a lot of possessions, but his teammates used their possessions a lot more effectively.
It sounds incredibly simple, Howard needs others to step up when he has big scoring games. This seems to reflect the perceived problem that the team gets stagnant when Howard has big games.
Howard should have more games like he did last night. Everyone wants to see Howard do that no doubt. And he is capable of doing it. But it should not cost the team wins.
Every other player has to step up their game and remain involved and, most importantly, aggressive to take advantage of these gargantuan efforts from its superstar.