Around the Amway -- February 25, 2011
By Josh Cohen & Dan Savage | Around the Amway Archive
Seemingly reassured that the roster remained intact after Thursday’s trade deadline and ostensibly poised to respond after Dwight Howard’s postgame comments from Wednesday, the Magic stormed past the short-handed Thunder, 111-88.
Thoroughly taking advantage of Oklahoma City’s limitations while still awaiting the arrival of their newly acquired interior players, Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammad, Howard delivered another monster performance with a season-tying-best 40 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks.
It was the fifth time in the last six games that D12 scored at least 30 points and Friday’s scoring total was just five points shy of his career best.
It was also the first time since Feb. 17, 2009 that Dwight notched at least 40 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks and he remains the only player since Shaquille O'Neal in 1999 to attain this stat line.
"He is the best center in the league and showed us tonight," said Kevin Durant, who led the Thunder with 23 points and 16 rebounds.
Howard, however, wasn’t the only one to flourish. Jason Richardson caught fire early and often and finished with 17 points, while Hedo Turkoglu did what he does best and that is distribute as he dished out 10 assists.
J.J. Redick contributed with 16 points and Jameer Nelson added 14 points and nine rebounds.
Orlando limited OKC to a dismal 33 percent shooting from the field, while shooting 50 percent on its end of the floor.
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He was deemed a throw in, a young piece, forgotten in a blockbuster deal that involved several high-profile former All-Stars.
But now Earl Clark is making an impact for the Magic against some of the league's supreme players.
With the Magic desperately in need of a defensive presence to slow down Kevin Durant, Clark stepped up to the plate on Friday and managed to help keep Oklahoma’s All-Star forward in check.
“I thought Earl played great,” reigning Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard explained. “He’s one of those guys that might forget the plays or might forget the rotations, but he’s going to go out there and play as hard as he can on both ends of the floor. That’s one of the things I appreciate about him, he doesn’t care about anything, but getting the job done.”
After Orlando was torched by nearly everyone on the Kings roster two nights earlier, Clark came in and helped make an impact against a highly explosive Thunder squad.
His contributions boosted a defensive effort that held Durant to a 7-for-22 shooting night from the field and stifled Oklahoma City to a 33 percent performance from the floor overall.
“I watched a lot of film with my coaches yesterday and this morning and I just tried to figure (Durant) out,” Clark said.
He may not have “figured him out,” but he certainly limited him for one night and provided Orlando with additional evidence that they can get high-energy production from players on this roster.
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With that stringent deadline more than 24 hours in the past, Magic players that may have been referenced in any of the trade blather can rest easily now.
Seemingly relieved and reassured that the current roster will be intact for the remainder of the season, the Magic came out red hot and prolonged their intensity throughout to cruise to a victory over the Thunder on Friday.
It’s definitely exasperating to constantly be the subject of trade gossip, especially when a player has no interest in relocating and is happy with their active role with the current team.
As a result, it’s no surprise that Orlando looked like a team that just had a ton of speculation wiped off its back and was ready to focus exclusively on preparing for the postseason.
Also apparent was the effect Dwight Howard’s postgame message from Wednesday had on the team.
After the Magic’s stunning loss to the Kings, Howard had some very impactful things to say about the effort from his teammates.
It seemed to have definitely had an influence on the team as their energy was soaring high.
Now, Orlando hopes it can utilize this relief as a way to string together a stretch of victories, especially with some heavy hitters coming up on its schedule.
Howard – in spite of being just 25 years old and despite there being plenty of years remaining in his basketball career – deserves to be recognized as one of the best centers in NBA history.
I realize it’s easy to propose such a theory after his spectacular 40-point, 15-rebound and six-block effort against Oklahoma City. But I am not expressing elation about a single game’s performance. I am conveying this premise based on his overall resume, which has been fortified this season with his game-by-game dominance.
I realize it’s an audacious proclamation considering it signifies that I believe Howard, a five-time NBA All-Star and reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year, warrants the same respect as all-time greats such as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal and Patrick Ewing.
But if you interpret what a center is supposed to be the same way I do, D12 categorically justifies this kind of status.
In my opinion, a great center always rules the paint, denies opponents from effectively attacking the hoop and persistently serves as a main source of intimidation that causes adversaries to doubt their decision-making.
Superman, by this definition and interpretation, successfully fulfills this role.
Friday’s performance was just another sample of why.
However, what is shocking is that the last player other than D12 to record that sizzling statline was Shaquille O’Neal, all the way back on Nov. 19, 1999.
“He’s having a phenomenal season like always,” Oklahoma City All-Star Kevin Durant explained. “He’s the best center in the league and showed us tonight.”
While that trade had some fans in Boston calling for GM Danny Ainge’s head and others in the media praising Oklahoma City, the Thunder players were not so sure that the deal was all gumdrops and rainbows on their end.
“Those guys are like brothers to us here,” Durant explained. “To not see them out there on the bench clapping for us, in the locker room speaking up, it was tough.”