Dwight Howard in race to return now


After the Magic initially believed there was no structural damage to Dwight Howard‘s ailing back, they received the bad news. Howard received a second opinion from a doctor in Los Angeles and was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back. an injury that had Dwight Howard listed as day-to-day and feeling discomfort that kept him from practicing now has him out for the next two weeks.

Orlando has been treading water in recent weeks even with Dwight Howard in the lineup. In the last month the Magic have fallen from sitting comfortably in the third seed in the East to a now precarious hold on the sixth seed.

Friday’s loss to Atlanta gave Atlanta a season sweep of Orlando and a one game lead over Orlando and Boston for the fourth seed. The Celtics, as leaders of the Atlantic Division, are guaranteed a spot in the top four. Charging hard behind the Magic now though are the Knicks, sitting three games behind with seven to go.

There is also the little matter of Orlando clinching a playoff spot. That number still sits at two Magic wins or two Bucks losses to get there. It seems Milwaukee has to go undefeated to keep Orlando from the Playoffs. If things hold firm, the Magic are looking at a comparatively favorable matchup with the Pacers.

None of that is going to matter in the final two weeks of the regular season. Orlando is going to have to quickly regain its footing.

Bulging discs are no joke. Really, any back injury is no joke.

Just think about how much you need your back to move. Now imagine that it is constantly throbbing and hurting every time you move. Now imagine you have to play basketball at a high level with that pain.

The thoughts that Dwight Howard was overstating his injury — those reports did surface — are plainly false. Howard is not someone who would sit out a game with a minor injury. For Howard not to play it takes A LOT.

This is certainly a lot.

Here is how WebMD explains the injury:

“A herniated disc occurs when the spongy, soft material that cushions the bones of the spine (vertebrae) slips out of place or becomes damaged. You can have a herniated disc in any part of your spine. When a herniated disc presses on a nerve, it can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in the area of the body where the nerve travels.”

Really it is surprising that an injury like this did not happen sooner with the pounding Dwight Howard takes on a nightly basis. A nagging injury in a difficult-to-heal place seemed like it should have happened much much sooner.

The best treatment, and the one the Magic will use is rest. Howard is not going to practice for at least a week, maybe longer. Likely, we will not see him in a Magic uniform until the Playoffs start two weeks from today.

The advice from everyone, including Quentin Richardson (@qrich), is to get this kind of injury right before coming back (h/t David Baumann of Bright House Sports Network):

Twitter / @DavidBaumann33: Magic f @qrich23 had herni … via kwout

What will happen until then is anybody’s guess. The Magic still have seven games on the schedule — including a two-game jaunt out West and just two remaining home games — and have to try and finish the regular season on some kind of positive momentum to get ready for the postseason.

In the meantime, dealing with a Howard-less Magic is going to be an interesting problem for the team to deal with.

The numbers in the games Howard has missed this season are not impressive. Not impressive at all.

Orlando is 1-4 with Howard out of the lineup this year. The lone win was that blowout victory and offensive onslaught against the Pistons earlier this week. But that was the exception more than the rule. Everyone knows they will have to step up now in Howard’s absence.

Both the offense and defense have struggled, as you would expect, without Howard in the lineup.

Off. Rtg.Def. Rtg.eFG%O.Reb.%FTR
w/o Dwight108.0111.648.827.223.2
Full Season102.0101.050.626.230.0

Undoubedly the numbers show the team is worse. This was a team playing .500 ball since the All-Star Break. Without Howard in there, it is a team that resembles something much worse.

Even a simple statistic like free throw attempts has skewed disfavorably. In the five games without Howard, the team has taken 97 free throw attempts — about 19 per game. Howard alone, though, takes 10 foul shots per game. That usually has the Magic’s free throw rate sitting above 30. With the team unable to defend and shooting at much less efficient clip, the offense is sorely missing these opportunities for points.

In the small sample size without Dwight Howard two numbers stick out — the team’s 10.5 percent increase in defensive rating from its season average and the 22.7 percent decrease in free throw rate.

The Magic are quite simply a different team without Howard in the lineup.

The coaches say that this is a defensive team first and foremost. That has been harder to believe this year. And that is even harder to believe with Howard absent. As I noted yesterday, four of the five teams (all the losses) shot better than 50 percent against the Magic’s defense and teams are shooting 53 percent in those four losses.

It is taking some seriously bad shooting nights or a rare strong offensive night for the Magic to keep up at this pace.

Life is going to be tough without Dwight Howard. The Magic will need to find itself a new offensive identity — possibly playing through Glen Davis who is averaging 18.6 points per game and 12.2 rebounds per game while shooting 47.4 percent from the floor in Howard’s absence — and certainly needs to find some will and determination defensively to survive.

Orlando still has a long way to go before the Playoffs and at this point needs to hold on to its position for dear life.

An Eye Toward Summer

Jason Fleming of HoopsWorld has his eyes on the summer already with a best case/worst case look at each team’s salary cap situation. Yeah, it is not looking good for the Magic. Jameer Nelson is not likely to take his early termination option, the Magic are not likely to buy out J.J. Redick’s final year of his contract and remove him from the salary cap books and the Magic are likely to go into the luxury tax to re-sign Ryan Anderson.

All Orlando could have left is the mini-mid level exception to play with in free agency this summer. Thanks Otis!