Denton's Notebook: January 26, 2012

By John Denton
January 26, 2012

ORLANDO – Of the teams that have had success at slowing down Orlando Magic superstar center Dwight Howard through the years – and the list is certainly a short one – the Boston Celtics have been the most effective.

And on Thursday, prior to the Magic’s rematch against the Celtics, Boston coach Doc Rivers shared his strategy on how his team attempts to stop Howard on the inside.

Basically, it comes down to this: Push Howard out of his comfort zone, send big men at him in waves and whack him any time he gets a shot or dunk at close range.

``Dwight is hard because he’s so big and strong and athletic and we try to get to his body early so he can’t get rolling deep. He’s had a couple of games he’s gotten rolling on us and then you are just hoping he misses the shot. We try to save the foul thing until he has a sure shot. We rarely used the Hack-A-Dwight unless he’s about to dunk the ball. For us it wouldn’t matter if Jameer was dunking – we’d foul him too. We just don’t like guys getting layups and we think they should make free throws instead.’’

In 22 career regular-season games against Boston, Howard has averaged 17.1 points per game while shooting 50.4 percent. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said part of the reason teams have success against Howard is because they can hammer him repeatedly and not have to worry about foul trouble because often the opposing centers are top-line players.

``I don’t know if they try to get into his head, but (the Celtics) try to play Dwight very physically,’’ Van Gundy said. ``It’s tough on guys like Dwight and (Andrew) Bynum because there are so few elite centers in the league. They are up against guys that it doesn’t matter to teams if they get into foul trouble. So they can play very physically, but we need Dwight on the floor. If we could let Dwight guard people the way they guard him I’m not sure that anyone would ever score on us in the paint. But we can’t do that because we need him on the floor. So guys play Dwight physically and they see what the referees will let them get away with. So that’s what the very few offensive centers that this league has is up against.’’

EARL THE PEARL: The Magic insisted that Earl Clark be included in their trade with Phoenix last year and they brought the 6-foot-10 power forward back this season because they felt he could be a key cog to the team off the bench.

Clark finally rewarded the Magic’s belief in him with a dazzling effort in Tuesday’s victory in Indiana. With Howard in first-half foul trouble and Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis forced to slide over to center, Clark got extended playing time against the Pacers.

Clark contributed five points, four rebounds and a whopping four blocked shots in 17 minutes played. Clark is one of the Magic’s hardest working players in practice, usually arriving at the arena three hours before tipoff to get in an arduous pregame workout.

``It always feels good to help your team. I was able to make some plays right away and stay in the game. It felt good to work as hard as I do and to finally have a good game come my way,’’ said Clark, who had 33 blocks in 101 career games prior to Tuesday. ``I was just trying to stay on top of everything on the defensive rotations and make plays.’’

Clark was dismayed that despite his strong play he showed up on ESPN’s SportsCenter while getting his dunk attempt swatted by Indiana reserve Lou Amundson.

``I saw that when I got back home and I shook my head,’’ Clark said. ``I just took it as I got four blocks in that game and (Amundson) only got one.’’

ANDERSON’S ADJUSTMENT: No one was able to move on from Monday’s massacre in Boston better than Magic power forward Ryan Anderson, who bounced back with a tremendous game on Tuesday in Indiana.

Just a night after missing all eight of his shots and failing to get a rebound in 23 minutes against Boston, Anderson came back to score 24 points against the Pacers with eight rebounds (six offensive) and five 3-pointers.

It’s no coincidence that Anderson’s two worst games of the season were against Chicago’s Carlos Boozer (2 of 10, 5 points) and Boston’s Kevin Garnett (0 of 8, 0 points) – physical power forwards who stayed up on Anderson’s 3-point shot.

Anderson entered Friday’s game leading the NBA in 3-pointers made (54) and 3-pointers attempted (128), but Van Gundy has stressed to him that he needs to focus less on his shooting and keep his attention on rebounding and setting screens.

``Ryan’s challenge is to focus on the things that will allow him to help our team every night. When he becomes focused on shooting and scoring he’ll have a rough time against some really good defenders like Kevin Garnett,’’ Van Gundy said. ``The things he can do every night is help his teammates move the ball, set screens and get on the boards. Then, let his shots come to him. In the Indiana game his focus was to set as many screens as he could and to get on the offensive boards and he had six offensive rebounds. And it didn’t detract from his offense.

``I just think he doesn’t need to give one second of thought to trying to find shots. He always gets up plenty of shots,’’ Van Gundy continued. ``His shooting doesn’t need to be a focus. Focus on helping your teammates and getting better defensively.’’

ETC: A night after playing a Boston team without Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Jermaine O’Neal, the Magic will face new Orleans on Friday night without start guard Eric Gordon. … Rivers raved about Boston’s addition of Michael Pietrus, saying the shooting guard has performed much like the player who starred for the Magic during their run to the NBA Finals in 2009. Said Rivers of Pietrus, who started Thursday: ``He’s been terrific. He’s been who we thought he was and much like the guy we saw in Orlando. I don’t know what happened in Phoenix, but in Orlando he was terrific. I thought when the Magic made it to The Finals he was as important as any player on that team. He guarded LeBron (James) as well as anybody has every guarded him and he guarded Kobe (Bryant) pretty well too. He made the threes and he drove more that year, and that’s what we’re working on him to do with us.’’ … Pietrus, who was traded from Orlando to Phoenix last December, said his time with the Magic is still the highlight of his nine-year NBA career. Said Pietrus: ``The Magic were a part of my family and they always will be. I was a big part of that team in 2009 and ’10 here and I loved it here, but sometimes the front office has to make decisions and we have to live with it. But I’ll never forget my time with the Magic.’’

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at

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