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Howard's act as off-putting as Rockets' play

POSTED: Feb 3, 2016 12:19 AM ET
UPDATED: Feb 3, 2016 1:58 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury


Fan Night: Reaction to Howard's Suspension

The guys react to Dwight Howard's one game suspension.

— Fitting that it was Groundhog Day.

Just like Punxsutawney Phil, there wasn't even a shadow of Dwight Howard to be seen.

For a change, the Rockets center didn't bother to get himself bounced out of the gym during playtime. He wasn't even in the Toyota Center for the opening tip of the 115-102 win over the Heat.

Howard was suspended for one game by the league office for striking the arm of referee Mitchell Ervin on Saturday night.

Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff was also fined $10,000 for his comments that ripped into the officiating

Bickerstaff on Howard suspension

J. B. Bickerstaff discusses Dwight Howard's one-game suspension.

"It is what it is," Bickerstaff said. "The way we look at it is you don't do this job, you're not a part of this group, for the money. You're a part of this because it's a privilege to be a part of a team. Being part of a team, you've got to stand for what you believe in. You gotta protect what you feel is right. You gotta protect your teammate. You gotta protect your family.

"So you do what believe is right and you pay the consequences in the end. The league has to do what they have to do. I understand that and respect that. But, you know, we as coaches and players, we have to sacrifice for one another. That's what you do for what you believe in."

Trouble is, what these Rockets believe in is running away from responsibility for this most mediocre of underperforming seasons.

First they blamed injuries in training camp. Then they blamed coach Kevin McHale and got him fired. Now the entire organization is blaming poor officiating for Howard being unable to control his emotions. Rather than hold him accountable, the Rockets are enablers.

Howard ejected vs. Wizards

Rockets Wizards Jan. 30

Fact is Howard got himself ejected from back-to-back games last weekend at Oklahoma City and at home against the Wizards for drawing four technical fouls. One has since been rescinded by the league, but Howard is still tied for the NBA high this season with 11.

We're fed the old trope: Howard's being picked on because the referees allow defenders to rough him up, beat him up down in the low post. It's been the complaint of every big man from George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O'Neal to Yao Ming.

It comes with the territory, but it's never been a place in which Howard has felt comfortable. Despite the Superman cape in the slam dunk contest and chiseled muscles, he's always been more of a phony tough guy.

Howard has always wanted to be perceived as a player who could carry a team to a championship. But now in his 12th NBA season, he's been to The Finals once and is moving in the wrong direction.

Never mind the details of specific pushes and shoves inside a game. In a season when the Rockets are flailing constantly around the .500 mark and trying hold together some sense of possibility for the playoffs, Howard got himself tossed twice in 24 hours and cost his team two games in the standings.

"I apologize for having emotions," Howard said Saturday night of his second technical that was for retaliating against Wizards center Nene with a push. "A guy comes at you, your first reaction is get him out of your face. That's any human being."

Not one that understands his place in the franchise, his role on the team. The Rockets have a roster filled with talent. However talent only takes you so far when it isn't accompanied by drive and professionalism. Howard too often acts like he's 30 going on 16: the big, goofy kid who wants to get by on a smile.

Before the season started, it was a no-brainer that the Rockets wanted to re-sign Howard when he is expected to opt out of his contract and become a free agent next summer. Now it might not even be a dead-solid lock that he's still on the roster past the Feb. 18 trade deadline.

His body is wearing down, but it's the act that's wearing out. Again.

Nobody needs to hear excuses about why you put your hands on Jared Dudley's shoulders, lashed out at Nene and inadvertently struck a referee's arm. Just don't.

"The reaction, the being able to control your anger, your frustration, I think ultimately it comes down to each of us as individuals," Bickerstaff said. "So he's got to stay on the floor. We need him to. It's obvious now that other guys are doing things to try to get a reaction out of him. So he can't allow that to bother him. He's too big a piece of what we do. He's got to stay on the floor.

"Again, our responsibility is to protect him so he doesn't get in those situations. The organization has done a great job of doing those things. Us as coaches have tried our best to do those things. So hopefully going forward it won't happen. But as an individual you've got to do what's right and make sure you keep your composure and make sure you stay on the floor so you can help this team."

Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil forecasted a premature spring. Houston Dwight and the Rockets are looking at an early summer too.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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