Denton: Series To Get Even More Grueling

By John Denton
April 20, 2011


ORLANDO – Some 90 minutes after Tuesday night’s Game 2, one in which Dwight Howard had put up 33 points and 19 rebounds and played all 48 minutes of a regulation game for just the second time in his career, the Orlando Magic’s superstar center was still hard at work.

Explaining how he can play through a pounding provided by a bevy of Atlanta centers and still carry the Magic through the playoffs, Howard morphed from basketball star to pitchman following the Magic’s 88-82 defeat of the Hawks. Already the spokesman of a half-dozen national endorsement ads, Howard jumped at the chance to do a little more work before Tuesday night melted into Wednesday morning.

``That’s why they make these Gatorades. This is the before (drink) and this is the recover (drink),’’ Howard said with a chuckle. ``That’s a little (advertisement) for Gatorade. I hope they were paying attention.’’

If one thing has become apparent to Howard and the Magic after two games of this first-round playoff series, it’s that nothing at all is going to be easy. That’s so unlike last spring, of course, when the Magic ransacked the Hawks in a four-game sweep by a historic 25 points a game on average. But with this series tied at 1-all heading into Friday’s Game 3 in Atlanta, it’s apparent that the Magic and Hawks will likely continue to make life tough for one another.

``It’s going to be a tough, physical series for us and the Hawks,’’ Howard said. ``We can’t back down and we have to pick up our intensity. They’re going home and they’re going to be amped up to play there, but that’s OK. We have to weather the storm early and we have to continue to run our offense and get stops on the defensive end.’’

Nothing at all was easy about the Magic’s Game 2 victory that knotted the series. Orlando fell behind by 10 midway through the second quarter, shot the ball poorly all night and nearly squandered a 12-point lead late in the fourth quarter. Leading 78-76, point guard Jameer Nelson dived to save a ball from going out of bounds and fed it to Hedo Turkoglu, who eventually converted a layup to put the Magic up four. And seconds later, Jason Richardson took a feed from Turkoglu and capped another poor shooting night with a 3-point dagger that secured the victory for the Magic.

``Everything in the playoffs are tough and everything is a chess match between the two teams,’’ said Richardson, who has made just five of 20 shots and two of nine 3-point attempts in the two games. ``They are going to change things around and come at us differently and we have to make the adjustments too and try to get Game 3.’’

Added Magic reserve forward Quentin Richardson, one of the four bodies the Magic threw at Atlanta’s Joe Johnson in Game 2: ``These two teams have history.

They’re not backing down and we’re certainly not backing down. At no point did we think it was going to be easy. We know it’s going to be a fight and we have to be willing to get in there and fight against these guys.’’

The Magic were shocked in Game 1 when the Hawks – a team that lost 21 of 31 down the stretch and their final six games of the regular season – shot a dazzling 74 percent in the second and third quarters and 51 percent overall of a 103-93 victory. Then, the Magic’s defensive intensity picked up in Game 2 and they were able to win despite shooting a dismal 34.6 percent.

In two games, Howard has made an incredible 71.4 percent of his shots, but he’s the only Magic player making better than half of their field goal attempts. The Magic are shooting 39.9 percent as a team and the Hawks have effectively taken away the Magic’s 3-point game while refusing to double-team Howard inside. The Magic are just 11 of 45 beyond the arc (24.4 percent).

Jameer Nelson (20 ppg.) is shooting a respectable 42.4 percent, but Hedo Turkoglu (8 ppg., 24 percent), Richardson (6 ppg., 25 percent) and J.J. Redick (5 ppg., 25 percent) are struggling mightily against an Atlanta team that has a size advantage and does a good job of closing out on jump shooters.

``I liked the shots that we were getting in the second half for the most part,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``I just kept saying to our guys, `You have to keep shooting the open shots and they’ll drop.’ And they didn’t really. That’s our guys games and they have to keep taking those shots. They’re not going to continue to shoot like that and I really believe that. I think we’re going to be OK.’’

The Magic are certainly hopeful that Howard will be OK after injuring his left shoulder in a first half where he pounded the Hawks for 24 points and 11 rebounds in the first 24 minutes. Howard said he never even considered coming out of the game, telling Van Gundy to call timeout if he looked tired but not to pull him out. Such a moment never came along and Howard kept carrying his team all night long with his dominance on the low block and his fearsome play in the paint defensively.

``(Van Gundy) kept asking me if I wanted to come out of the game, and I said I wanted to keep playing,’’ Howard recalled. ``I just felt like I needed to be on the floor. I needed to be on the floor. It’s tough. But you can’t think about (fatigue) while you’re on the court. You can’t think about anything like that while you’re playing. Just fight through it. That’s what I try to do. As much as I get hit and beat on in the game, I just think about what we're trying to accomplish here.’’

Some of Atlanta’s players wondered aloud whether or not Howard could keep up the pace that he’s set in Games 1 and 2. He has 79 points and 38 rebounds so far and according to Elias Sports Bureau only Elgin Baylor (89 points and 39 rebounds in 1961) has as many points and rebounds in consecutive playoff games.

After becoming just the third Magic player ever to play all 48 minutes of a regulation playoff game, Howard had his shoulder massaged and his feet and knees were packed in ice for almost an hour. Howard and the Magic had a much-needed off day on Wednesday, and he said he would use the time to rest his weary body. He said the first two games took a tremendous toll on his body, but he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the Magic win.

``I don’t think people understand it,’ Howard said. ``I just continue to go out there and do what I can to help my team win. I have to do a lot for my team. They do a lot for me. It goes both ways. I understand how important it is for me to come out and play as hard as I can.’’

And if that means never coming out of a game, well so be it, Howard said. And if he gets tired, he’ll just chug more of those Gatorades.

``Like I tell everybody – I’ll sleep when I die. That's when I’ll take my rest – as soon as they put me under the ground,’’ Howard said. ``So until then, while I’m on earth, I’ll put in work. So if I have to play 48 minutes, I’ll play 48 minutes.’’

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.