Dwight Howard changes the game. He is one of those players in the league that defenses — and offenses — have to always account for. No doubt Dwight Howard’s mere presence makes things more difficult for opponents.
So what happens when Dwight Howard is out for the game? The Magic have already faced this reality twice this season, but both times they had Marcin Gortat behind him to play the five in his stead. In the three games Howard missed in 2008-09, the only other three games he has missed, Gortat was there too.
It is safe to say, these are uncharted waters for Stan Van Gundy and the Magic. They may not be so for Nate McMillan and the Trail Blazers tonight.
“It’s a game we’ve got to play,” McMillan said. “They’re missing a key guy and that happens throughout the year. We’ve seen teams respond in situations like this. It’s an opportunity for these guys. They are going to have to play with a sense of urgency and play connected. We’ve been through that, and our guys have responded. You can’t be a let down on our focus on what you need to do against this team tonight.”
Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson will start, interchanging between the four and the five throughout the game. It does not appear Orlando’s strategy will change much as Bass has proven he can score and perform without Howard — to the tune of 27 points on 11-for-12 shooting back on Dec. 3 against Detroit. And, of course, the 3-point shooters will still be there surrounding him to hoist away from long range.
McMillan said the rules are the same for his team. The Trail Blazers will focus on taking away the paint to keep the Magic from getting out to the 3-point line and getting into a rhythm offensively. And then offense, Jameer Nelson will have to battle Andre Miller in the post. Without Howard, Portland’s inside-out game could be more successful.
“They still have the shooters,” Portland starting forward Nicolas Batum said. “You got Hedo, Nelson and J-Rich, all those guys can play. Even without Dwight in the paint tonight, this is still a dangerous team.”
Batum said he expect the battle on the glass, where Orlando lost by 20 boards to Chicago with Howard on Friday, to be most important and for the pace to be faster with Howard out for the game.
The strategy may not be different. But without Howard, tonight’s game certainly will be.
Video by Eric Lopez.