Right before halftime the inevitable finally happened. Dwight Howard came down for a rebound, got fouled a little too hard and swung his elbow at Kyle Korver as he was letting go of the ball. It was a sign of frustration mounting on a night where the Magic’s offense could never really get going and the defense could not really collect a rebound against a touch Chicago team. It built up enough to allow the referee to blow the whistle and finally end the “will he or won’t he make it” debate.
OK, there may not have been much doubt Howard would eventually pick up his 16th technical foul and garner the mandatory one-game suspension that comes with it. In all likelihood the league will not rescind this one as it has done four times already this season. There will be no stay of execution.
Monday night, Orlando will have to battle LaMarcus Aldridge, Gerald Wallace and Brandon Roy without its superstar center. UPDATE: Howard has officially been suspended for Monday’s game.
“It’s very frustrating,” Howard said. “There is only so much you can take with people grabbing you, holding you, slapping you in the face. Sometimes you are going to retaliate. You’ve just got to try to not get so emotional.”
Howard seems very accepting of the penalty. He recognizes these are the league rules and it is what it is.
But the frustration also can be seen on Howard’s face — not just in the scar left from Pau Gasol raking him across the face a few weeks ago, but also in a fresh, red cut beneath his left eye. Howard takes a beating every night and soldiers on as best he can.
Howard said his teammates understand what he is doing and his frustration. He said there has to be some consequence when he is still getting fouled even after the whistle has blown. And if the referees are not going to do anything, Howard said he would. Not in a violent way or anything, but he has to protect himself.
“It’s kind of hard,” Jason Richardson said. “He’s trying to get away from people, and people start grabbing him. He’s got to do a better job of composing himself a little better. But, I’m fromt he outside looking in. I’m not the one getting hit on the arm, or hit in the face every night, night in and night out. After a while, it does take a toll on you and sometimes you just want to be left alone.”
Stan Van Gundy was unwilling to “give the league $35,000″ and talk about Howard’s technical Friday night. But he did say it was a lot of the same things where the officials allow contact after the whistle.
According to Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel, Otis Smith and Howard contacted the league office to ask what they can do as an organization to decrease Howard’s technical fouls. Howard admitted it is an uphill battle and the rules are simply the rules.
“We have been through a lot this year, not just with fouls or whatever, but things that happened with the team — a lot of people sick, hurt trade or whatever,” Howard said. “We’ve got to keep going at it. We’re going to fight through all this, we’re going to fight through the bad calls, we’re going to fight through the technical fouls or whatever it may be. We’re going to do whatever we can to win.”
It is going to take another big effort from Orlando to play and win without Howard in the lineup Monday night.
Orlando has had very few occassions throughout Howard’s career to play without its franchise center. This season, Howard missed two games with the strange stomach virus that swept through the team back in December. Orlando split those two games, posting a 109.6 and 105.5 deffensive efficiency in the two games. Milwaukee famously got a career rebounding effort from Andrew Bogut in that game as Marcin Gortat struggled in a back-to-back game without Howard.
Other than that, Howard has missed just three games in his entire career. One was to rest for the playoffs. The other two he sat out with a sprained ankle. Orlando won both of those games in his stead, posting a 103.3 defensive efficiency against Utah on Dec. 13, 2008 and a 101.0 defensive efficiency against Golden State two days later. Jameer Nelson posted a then-career high 32 points against the Warriors as Marcin Gortat joined him in posting 16 points and 13 rebounds.
The Magic are 3-2 in games played without Howard in his career. Orlando rarely has to play without its franchise player. But on those occassions they have done decently.
Of course, the Magic had Marcin Gortat in those games. This will be the first time since the trades Orlando will have to play without Howard.
Still, against a playoff team like Portland, you would rather have Howard in the game. This team’s inconsistencies, especially on defense, raise concern about Howard’s absence in this game, even with time to prepare for it — as the Magic were afforded in the two 2009 wins, but not in the split earlier this year.
Van Gundy said Friday night he has given no thought to how to adjust his lineup without Howard in there. The rebounding that plagued Orlando on Friday will have to be corrected considering no one on the roster grabbed more than five defensive rebounds and Howard and Ryan Anderson were the only two to reach that mark.
In all likelihood the Magic will have to rely upon Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson and little-used center Malik Allen. For those thinking that Daniel Orton might be an emergency option, he said he is nowhere near ready to return from the knee injury that has plagued him all year (and really all last year at Kentucky).
“[The gameplan] doesn’t change at all,” Van Gundy said. “We’ll just get ready to play.”
Still, whatever Orlando has to face Monday night. It is what it is. Howard will likely have to sit out his game and be ready for the difficult West Coast trip ahead, cheering on his teammates to get a good getaway win.
“We have to play hard every night, that’s the only way you’re going to get better,” Howard said. “I know I will be rested for the West Coast trip.”