Denton: Howard Plays Role of Scout

By John Denton
March 6, 2011


ORLANDO – More than a few Orlando players did a double take on Sunday afternoon when Dwight Howard flipped his reversible jersey from black to white, joined the scout team and played the role of Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge instead that of the Magic’s superstar center.

Because Howard has been suspended for the Magic’s Monday night game at the Amway Center against the Trail Blazers, Orlando worked on Sunday to make the adjustments of being without their do-everything center. Even Howard himself laughed at having to be scout team player instead of one helping the Magic get ready for the next game, and he mocked his own predicament.

``I’ve had to wear the white jersey before when I was like the quarterback for the football team – no contact. But this time instead of being no contact, mine said `suspended’ on it,’’ Howard said with a chuckle. ``I had the shirt with the big `S’ on it, but it wasn’t for `Superman.’ It was `suspension.’ It was the jersey of shame.’’

Howard was suspended by the NBA’s league office after picking up his 16th technical foul of the season. He was whistled for the latest technical foul Friday night against the Chicago Bulls when he threw an elbow at Chicago’s Kyle Korver, who had been holding onto Howard’s arm well after the whistle.

NBA rules that players be suspended for one game and fined $5,000 and one game check ($150.087) upon picking up their 16th technical foul of the season. Players can be fined an additional game upon receiving their 18th technical foul. The count starts over at the start of the playoffs.

The Magic (40-23) will be without their MVP candidate against Portland (35-27). The Blazers beat the Magic 97-83 on Dec. 9 despite Howard scoring 39 points and grabbing 15 rebounds one day after his birthday.

On Monday, however, the Magic will start Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass at power forward and center and the two will share the responsibilities of having to guard Aldridge, who has boosted his scoring average to 22.3 points per game.

``It’s no excuses and we all have to step up our games up,’’ Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. ``Everybody has to do what they can do. We’ll be a smaller team and we’ll all have to hit the boards. We’ve been playing better defense, but we haven’t been (rebounding) as good lately.’’

The Magic were without Howard for two games – Dec. 3 at Detroit and Dec. 4 at Milwaukee – earlier this season when the star center battled a nasty stomach virus. With just eight healthy bodies, the Magic were able to beat the Pistons, 104-91. However, the next night Andrew Bogut exploited Orlando reserve center Marcin Gortat inside with 31 points and 18 rebounds in a Bucks’ victory. Gortat has since been traded to Phoenix, leaving the Magic with only power forwards Earl Clark, Malik Allen, Anderson and Bass behind Howard.

``Obviously it changes for one game, but you have those kind of things all of the time whether it’s injuries, sickness or something else,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said.

Nelson, a co-captain with Howard, said already in practice on Sunday it was shocking to the system to be without the big man he’s played next to for seven seasons.

``When I saw him in practice (on the scout team) and I knew I had to go down to trap him, I wasn’t used that at all,’’ Nelson said. ``I’m not used to trapping him; I’m used to giving him the ball on my team and receiving the pass from him.’’

Van Gundy said he can’t really be upset at Howard because he takes numerous hits throughout games and is often hit after the whistle. It’s only natural for Howard to respond to the whacks he’s taken of late, Van Gundy said, but he has to do a better job of controlling his emotions so that he’s not suspended any more this season.

Howard made a concerted effort to curb his criticisms to the referees of late, and has gone more than three weeks without picking up a technical foul for arguing. But twice he’s been hit with Ts after flinging a hand or elbow back at a foe after being fouled hard. He was whistled a week earlier after grazing the face of Oklahoma City’s Nick Collision.

``I try not to let the officiating affect the way that I play. It’s very tough, but I have to do it. I think it’s like they want to make an example out of me, but I just try to stay positive and continue to do all of the things that I do to bring fun to the game,’’ said Howard, who has scratch marks under both eyes from contact that didn’t even result in fouls on the other team. ``So that’s all I can do now because I’m not a bad guy or a hot head because I get techs. I know that’s the message that some people want to put across. I guess, last year I smiled too much and now I don’t smile enough and now I’m a hot head.’’

White his teammates will be battling center Marcus Camby and Aldridge inside Monday night, Howard will likely be at his home in suburban Orlando watching the game with friends and family. NBA rules require that he can’t be in the arena on game day, so he’ll have to miss the team’s morning shootaround and the game tomorrow night. He said it already pains him to think about being away from his teammates, but he’s doing his best to make it through a difficult situation.

``I haven’t been talking to the officials that much. I just have to be able to control myself when people are allowed to hit me. So that’s all I can do now,’’ Howard said.

``I thought about having a viewing party and invite 500 of Orlando’s finest people out so that we can all view the game. We might just sit outside on Orange Avenue and set up a big-screen TV and watch the game. … I just keep my head into it, stay positive and try to encourage my teammates. I know it’s going to be tough, but we have a real good team and we’re going to show up.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.