Cohen Courtside: Magic vs. Heat (2/8/12)
By Josh Cohen
February 8, 2012
In Cohen Courtside, Josh Cohen examines the state of the Orlando Magic after games this season. He will tackle sidebar storylines and focus on topics that stretch far beyond the box score. There will also be some analysis on league-wide subjects.
ORLANDO -- Something has noticeably changed over the past week or so.
Something seems drastically different yet somehow proverbial to us all.
And this amendment – while very familiar to basketball enthusiasts – may catapult the Orlando Magic to their ultimate goal of winning an NBA championship.
I will put it this way: Dwight Howard, right now, is the best player in the NBA.
Literally, he is the best, most impactful player in the league.
I was convinced last season he was the preeminent talent in the NBA when he finished second in MVP balloting.
If the NBA started from scratch and there was a franchise draft, Howard would be the first overall pick.
Yes, that means all general managers would select him over LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, etc. etc.
For the first month of the season, Howard seemed distracted, which was expected considering the drama surrounding his unpredictable future. At times, he looked disoriented and his surprisingly low field goal and free throw percentages were evidence of that.
While always a game-changer because of his defensive commitment and mind-boggling athleticism, over the last several games, including his spectacular 25-point, 24-rebound performance in Wednesday’s win over the Heat, Howard has been unassailable.
Sure, Dwight still managed to register All-Star level statistics for the first 25 games or so because of how talented he is, but he just didn’t resemble the unstoppable force that he displayed last season when he blended power, speed and finesse.
From his assortment of post moves to his improved touch around the rim to his respectable free throw shooting to his relentless rebounding, D12 has played his best basketball to date since the Magic’s loss in Philadelphia more than a week ago.
"He plays a ton of minutes and he still manages to play with a really high energy," said Ryan Anderson, who erupted for 27 points on Wednesday. "It's an honor playing with Dwight. He is just one of those rare talents."
It’s extremely encouraging because we all know that if the Magic hope to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy this season, Howard must remove any diversions about his undetermined future and play like the superhero he has been lately.
Howard, nonetheless, isn’t the only one in blue and white who flourished against their Sunshine State rivals.
At one point during the first half, I turned to the person sitting next to me and asked, when did Anderson become Larry Bird?
Yes, that’s a mighty exaggeration and yes, Bird was one of the most complete players in NBA history. But Anderson’s shooting touch mixed with his unremitting rebounding and hustle somewhat resembled the way Bird would play during his glory days with the Celtics.
Anderson was so outstanding, the Heat had to switch their defensive scheme and have James guard the 6’10 forward.
While there are a plethora of power forwards to choose from in the Eastern Conference for the All-Star Game later this month, coaches need to seriously consider Anderson for a spot on the team.
"If he keeps challenging himself to play at a higher level on a more consistent basis, then the sky's the limit," Stan Van Gundy said.
There were more positive signs from the Magic’s impressive win. Jameer Nelson, though didn’t open any eyes in the box score, was again aggressive like he was against the Clippers on Monday.
And Orlando’s shooters, including Anderson, J.J. Redick and the Richardsons, were on fire again.
It’s been said a few times after some of the Magic’s big wins this season, but I think it’s fair to declare that Wednesday’s victory over Miami was their best triumph of the season so far.
Would you say based on his performance over the past week that Dwight Howard is the best player in the NBA?
Follow Josh Cohen on Twitter here