Dwight Howard is never usually the center of attention in the All-Star Game. I mean, he is the center and takes the opening tip, and he usually gets the most votes for the game. Once the game itself starts, Howard fades into the background. His skill set to subtle and intangible for an exhibition game that favors fancy dribbling, passing, lobs and one-on-one play.
People don’t pay to see a center post somebody up.
This was Dwight’s All-Star Game though. The one being played in “his city.” The one that Orlando basketball fans had been waiting 20 years to see again. There was no doubting the fans wanted to see more from their superstar. They wanted to see him shine among the stars.
Howard, unfortunately, did not do that. His underwhelming nine-point, 10-rebound performance left Magic fans wanting a bit more. It was just an exhibition game — one where Howard’s career averages are now 13.3 points per game and 9.2 field goal attempts in six All-Star appearances — so don’t read too much into any perception of Dwight’s effort or his playing ability in the West’s 152-149 win at Amway Center on Sunday.
This game, this weekend was all about having fun.
“Guards have the ball, they are the ones that pass unless you want me to bring the ball down the floor every time,” said Howard, giving some good-natured ribbing to his shorter teammates. “Like I said, the show was the whole weekend. It was not just about the game. Me and my team, we did our best to put on a show for the city and all the fans in the NBA. You’re really planning out a lot of things before All-Star Weekend hit Orlando.
“Everything that we have done these last couple games have been great. I really thank all the fans for coming out and supporting me and the rest of my teammates at all our events. That’s putting on a show, not just a game.”
It certainly was a show as the East trimmed a 20-point West lead to one point late in the game. Kobe Bryant missed some key free throws with the game on the line and Paul Pierce ribbing him from the sideline. Deron Williams missed a 3-pointer late that could have given the East the win and Dwyane Wade missed a game-tying 3-pointer as time expired.
Kevin Durant was named the MVP after scoring 36 points and grabbing seven rebounds. LeBron James led the East with 36 points of his own and seven assists to go with six rebounds. Dwyane Wade had a triple double and Kobe Bryant passed Michael Jordan to become the All-Star Game’s all-time leading scorer.
Howard was taking in all the fun for most of the night.
He got the ball on the East’s first possession and tried his favorite running hook move, only to get blocked by Andrew Bynum. That was the beginning of a long offensive night as Howard was content to let the guards run the show.
That might have had Magic fans frustrated, but remember this is just an exhibition. Howard was joking around more than usual as he missed all four of his 3-point attempts and said he was just trying to get one and show he had made some improvement.
“In these type of games, it’s hard for the big buys because it’s such an up-and-down game,” East coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The ball si in the hands of the perimeter players more. But he did some good things. He’s a great player. You know sometimes, that happens.”
The usually defensive-minded and perfectionist Thibodeau gave a few chuckles when the talk came to defense and Howard’s 3-point attempts. Thibodeau said Howard is pretty confident with those shots. His tongue was firmly planted in his cheek.
Howard continued to deflect talk about his future and re-affirmed his general talking point for the weekend. This was a game to celebrate Orlando and “his city.” Even after the All-Star Game, he refused to add any fuel to speculation surrounding the team. For this weekend, Howard wanted to suspend the rumors.
Even if the TNT cameras would not. Craig Sager interviewed Howard’s mom during the game and she told him that her gut feeling is that Howard would say. Howard responded when told about that report that his mom, like everyone else, has an opinion.
Howard addressed the crowd before the game and said: “It’s been great having you all here in my city, my home: Orlando. We did it big for our city, and I appreciate all you guys from the bottom of my heart.”
When reporters pressed him for more information he said that was exactly what he meant.
Howard was very pleased with how the weekend went. And while the game might have been a disappointment for Howard, the weekend certainly was not.