Too Much Dwight
Howard dominates Pistons as their D springs leaks in loss to Houston
Andre Drummond had a two-word message for Dwight Howard after a performance that sent the loud and clear message that he’s not ready to pass the baton any time soon.
Howard smiled back and said, “Any time.”
“I thanked him for teaching me something today,” Drummond said after Howard packed a semester’s worth of lessons into a few horrifying hours for the Pistons, who absorbed a 114-97 loss to complete a thoroughly disappointing weekend after the highs experienced earlier in the week with road wins at Indiana and Boston.
“I learned a lot playing against him. It was actually my first time playing against him longer than 10 minutes, so I got a good feel for how he plays. He gave me different pointers after the game, too. So it was a learning experience for me today.”
The Rockets played without leading scorer James Harden, backup guard Jeremy Lin and trade candidate Omer Asik, then lost starting point guard Patrick Beverly to a hand injury in the first half. All that meant: More Dwight.
He put up MVP numbers: 35 points, 19 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots in 40 minutes. And if you guessed that Howard probably had gotten a bellyful of listening to hype surrounding the eye-popping numbers the 20-year-old kid center from Detroit was putting up over the first third of the season, well, good guess.
“I’m sure,” Maurice Cheeks said. “Dwight’s a prideful guy. He’s been around the league a while and had a lot of success in this league. I’m sure he’s paid attention to Andre’s rebound numbers. When you have a guy like Dwight and an upstart player like Andre, I’m sure he pays attention.”
When Howard was in his early veteran years with Orlando, the Pistons often would handcuff him with some combination of three of the best interior defenders in the NBA: Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace and Antonio McDyess. Later still, even Jason Maxiell had his moments in frustrating the NBA’s dominant big man.
"Andre was playing against a really good player. Andre is a young player, got a little ways to go."
- Maurice Cheeks on the Andre Drummond-Dwight Howard matchup
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The Pistons have seen Drummond make startling week-over-week, month-over-month progress in his 89-game NBA career. So when he says Saturday’s confrontation was a learning experience, there’s plenty of faith in the front office and the coaching staff that it’s more than a rote response.
“I didn’t get frustrated,” Drummond said. “Was it annoying that he kind of got what he wanted? He’s an established player and he knows how to beat his defender, so for me I took a step back and had to learn something even though I was guarding him. I learned a lot tonight and I’ve got to use it for the rest of the season. … That’s how it goes. Studying players in this league and playing them more than once, I”ll have a better idea of what he does now and try to get the best of him next game.”
Josh Smith was Howard’s AAU teammate growing up in Atlanta, so it wasn’t his first eyewitness account of a Howard assault and battery. But he’s no more certain of how to prevent it than anyone else.
“I don’t know,” said Smith, who did his best to keep the Pistons close with 15 first-half points before the snowball kept rolling downhill. “You’ve got to match his physicality and it’s kind of hard. You have to be able to take away something and tonight we didn’t do it. They were able to knock down some 3-pointers and when he got the ball in the post he was effective.”
With Howard commanding a sagging defense, not only were the Pistons exposed at the 3-point line against a team that shoots more than anybody else, 27 a game, but they were also vulnerable to penetration from Beverly, backup Aaron Brooks and emerging wing Chandler Parsons, who finished with 20 points.
“Some guys stayed attached to him a little bit more, but we’ve got to do a better job of keeping guys in front of us, too,” Cheeks said. “It’s not always that big guy when someone drives the lane. That’s part of it. But we’ve got to do a better job of keeping guys in front of us.”
Maybe Howard’s brilliance was going to hang a loss on the Pistons no matter what else happened on this night, so lingering appeared the effects of Friday’s searing loss to Charlotte, which erased a 20-point deficit and outscored the Pistons 41-17 in the fourth quarter.
“They may have been a little carryover. I can’t discount that,” Cheeks said. “That was a hard loss. That was a tough loss. On the flip side, that could have been very good for us if we had won that game. We didn’t and it may have had a little carryover.”
The Pistons appeared emotionally and physically wrung out after a week that started with a wrenching overtime loss to Portland, followed by the resounding win at Indiana and the comeback from 21 down at Boston. They’ve played 29 games in just the season’s first 53 days, 21 of them in the past 35.
“I don’t want to use that as an excuse,” Smith said. “It’s the nature of the beast. You just have to be able to take care of your body as a professional and be ready to go out there and play.”
The Pistons are now 7-6 on the road, 6-10 at home. So maybe it’s a good thing that their chance to respond to the weekend back-to-back home losses will come Monday on the road, at Cleveland. Andre Drummond isn’t the only Piston absorbing some tough lessons.