Denton: Dwight Emotional, Not Defiant

By John Denton
April 9, 2011

ORLANDO – Once criticized as a player who joked and laughed too much as he seemed to be having the time of his life on the basketball court, Orlando Magic superstar center Dwight Howard is baffled now at how the pendulum has swung the other direction.

The NBA’s leader in technical fouls with 18 and suspended Sunday for a second time this season, Howard wants people to know he’s no malcontent and one looking to pick verbal fights with the officials. Howard said instead he is an emotional player and from time to time he lets those emotions get the best of him on the court.

``I’m not concerned about (the relationship with officials), but I just can’t allow the way games are being called to affect the way that I play,’’ Howard said. ``I just have to keep playing. I think I allow calls and things to affect who I am as a person. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea about me. Dwight Howard and technical fouls don’t go together.’’

Howard won’t be available for Sunday’s 1 p.m. game at the Amway Center when the Magic (50-29) host the Chicago Bulls (59-20) because of a NBA-mandated one-game suspension. By rule, he won’t be allowed in the building, but will instead watch the game at home and then meet his teammates later in the day for the flight to Philadelphia for Monday’s game against the Sixers.

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy is still upset that Howard won’t be available because he had hoped to use Sunday’s game against the East-leading Bulls as a gauge of where Orlando stands before the playoffs start next weekend. The Magic are locked into the fourth seed and will open the first round of the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks. If seeds hold form, the Magic and Bulls could play in the second round of the playoffs.

``I was disappointed because even though we’re locked in this was one game because (the Bulls) are so good that this was one game we were trying to point to, but injuries and suspensions happen in the NBA,’’ Van Gundy said. ``We’re very well aware (that they could play Chicago in the second round). But how we play (on Sunday) will have very little meaning in terms of the playoffs because my guess is for that series I’d probably play Dwight and he’d probably have a prominent role. So I don’t think the way we play (Sunday) will have anything to do with the way we’d play them if we’re fortunate enough to get through the first round. There won’t be much we can take from (Sunday’s) game.’’

Howard was whistled for his 18th technical foul during Wednesday’s overtime defeat of the Charlotte Bobcats. For the third time this season and the second time in as many nights, Howard was whistled for a 10-second violation on a free throw attempt. Rather than give the ball to the referee, Howard rolled the ball down the court, resulting in another technical foul and another suspension that will cost him roughly $155,000 in salary.

Howard said he will make an adjustment at the free throw line to speed up his routine, but he has vowed to never again change who he is as a person on the floor. He opened this season more serious than ever, rarely flashing his trademark smile. He was stung by the criticism that he was too playful on the court and vowed to be more serious and workmanlike on the court.

But Howard said that demeanor took the fun out of the game for him and changed his personality for the worse. At times, he was more confrontational than ever with officials and he reacted angrily to hard hits from opposing players. He vowed on Sunday that the fun-loving player will return for the final two regular season games and the playoffs ahead.

``It’s a lesson for the younger kids to not allow people to change who you are. Be who you are and be content,’’ said Howard, who is on the verge of becoming the first player in 21 seasons to average at least 23 points (23.1 ppg.) and 14 rebounds (14.1 rpg.) in a season. ``I think because I smile so much and have fun on the court that I allowed them to say that I wasn’t serious about the game of basketball. I allowed that to sink into my head and change the way that I play. Instead of being the person that I’ve always been I changed. I have to get back to having fun.’’

Howard said when the Magic were struggling earlier in the season and pulled off two blockbuster trades for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas and Earl Clark he realized that his new serious mentality was affecting him negatively. The changes he made resulted in greater production than ever and he’s now a serious candidate to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award.

``Earlier this season, right after the trade, I felt like, `Why am I trying to not smile and do what I did in previous seasons? Why am I doing this to myself?’’’ Howard asked. ``I think people enjoy the way that I play because of the just going out there and playing hard. They like my smile and the fact that I interact with fans and kids sitting near the court. I just can’t allow things to keep me away from doing that.’’

Howard said he didn’t even want to think about having to miss Sunday’s game because of the frustration he causes him to feel. Instead, he used Saturday’s practice to start getting himself mentally and physically ready to take on the Hawks in the playoffs.

``Hopefully we’ll be a much better team in the playoffs. I’m looking forward to that because we’re all really focused on the right things,’’ Howard said. ``I’m working on things that I will see against the Hawks in the first round. That’s all that’s been on my mind – how the Hawks will play me. It’s not just their one-on-one defense, but it’s that everybody is going to be in the paint when I have the ball. They force me to make plays where I have to kick it out and trust my teammates. So I have to get my mind right for that starting now.’’

John Denton writes for E-mail John at Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at