MIAMI – Two days ago Dwight Howard was in the visitor’s locker room at Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena. It was pre-game and the media had just entered. Howard, wearing only his underwear, farted loudly. Twice. Then he laughed. And almost everybody, players and media, laughed along with him. (D-12′s flatulent tendencies have been chronicled before.)
Now, that’s leadership.
But it’s not enough leadership to propel Orlando to the title. For that, Howard needs help.
So let’s credit the Orlando Magic for keeping Howard, the most dominant center in the NBA.
Now, let’s see what the Magic does. Howard is a leader (as we clearly see from the above example) but he can’t do it alone. And right now, in a sense, he’s alone on the Orlando Magic. They’re good, but still not quite good enough. Howard needs more help. The Magic can’t throw a 1-2 punch at opponents without a 2.
But here’s the thing, I’m not sure who, or what, fixes the problem this season. It’s pretty much all on Howard unless someone – Hedo Turkoglu, Ryan Anderson, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson –steps out of character and leads a Magical playoff run.
And from where things stand right now, meaning Miami and Chicago seem as though they’ll remain intact, Orlando faces the same problem next season.
Coach Stan Van Gundy identified the problem after Monday’s humiliating 85-59 loss at Chicago.
“When you play the way we played tonight,” he said, “this is a team-wide thing.”
He’s right. Orlando’s issues are team-wide.
Orlando’s offense is pretty good, but it could use someone who can create his own shot, put the ball on the floor, make decisions, and is hard to defend. Once upon a time that was Turkoglu. He handled the ball late in games, could dish, and hit that late-game dagger. Orlando, which is fourth in three-point shooting (.382) and 24th in points per game (93.6), needs that missing dimension, something it had when it went to the Finals in 2009.
Orlando’s defense is good, but another perimeter defender wouldn’t hurt, maybe someone to try to limit Miami’s Dwyane Wade-LeBron James combination, or someone to throw out there against Chicago’s Derrick Rose-Rip (Whenever He Gets Healthy) Hamilton duo. Once upon a time that was Mickael Pietrus.
Coaching? Yeah, it could probably be better in some areas, too. At least that’s what Van Gundy said.
The point is, Orlando is in a tough spot right now because there’s no move/acquisition the Magic can make to cure their ailment this season. They’re stuck with what they’ve got.
That doesn’t mean the Magic should give up. They’re a good team, and they’ve been that way for years. But you get the idea with that statement. Orlando, the third-best team in the East, needs something to get it over the top, push it over the edge, make it a special team. They need more on-court, lead-by-example leadership.
Orlando has needed that for years. And it could happen next year, but it looks grim for this year.
Being the third-best team in the Eastern Conference is good, but it often means you don’t get to the conference finals. That’s falling far short of the goal for a team such as Orlando, which has four consecutive 50-win seasons and went to the Finals three years ago.
Atlanta showed it in last season’s playoffs. Let Dwight gets his, and focus on everybody else. It worked. The Hawks beat the Magic in six games. None of the guys aside from Howard did much.
For a further snapshot of Orlando’s problems, look at the offensive inconsistency the last two games. The Magic’s 85-59 loss at Chicago on Monday? It was a franchise record for the Bulls, the fewest points Chicago has ever allowed.
Orlando preceded that with Sunday’s 91-81 loss at Miami.
“Our problem with them is our offense,” Van Gundy said about the Heat. “It’s not all us, their defense is terrific, but I think we have an idea of what we need to do playing against them. We just didn’t get it done.”
All too often that happens for the Magic – they don’t get it done against the good teams, or the title-contending teams.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra thinks Orlando is ready right now.
“They’re definitely a title contender,” he said before Sunday’s game.
Van Gundy, a close friend of Spoelstra’s, bristled.
“He’s only saying that because they play us tonight,” he said dismissively.
Perhaps. But let’s face facts: unless something unexpected happens, Orlando will be just good enough to lose to Miami or Chicago in this year’s playoffs.
Magic general manager Otis Smith, who has never been shy about making a deal, has until next year’s trade deadline to add a significant piece to the Magic’s core, or else Dwight Howard will create another stink.
Chris Perkins is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com, covering the NBA and the Miami Heat. His columns regularly appear every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter.