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|Howard got his Defensive Player of the Year award Wednesday, but his offense was key in Game 2.|
ORLANDO, Fla. -- He is now the two-time reigning defensive player of the year, but there was one major question about Dwight Howard after Game 1 of the Orlando-Charlotte series that continued to be pertinent at halftime of Game 2.
What the heck happened to Superman's offense?
A complete answer never came, but a partial one was provided in a span of four and a half minutes at the start of the second half. Howard scored Orlando's first nine points of the third quarter to help the Magic build what eventually became a 20-point lead that held up in their 92-77 victory Wednesday night that gave them a 2-0 lead over the Bobcats.
Howard scored on a free throw, two layups and two dunks to give Orlando a 50-38 lead, and the double-digit advantage stayed in double figures for all but 27 seconds of the third quarter and all but 24 seconds of the fourth.
Coming off a Game 1 in which he scored only five points on 2-for-4 shooting from the field and a 1-for-6 effort from the line, the burst was a rare display, at least of late, of what Howard is capable on the offensive end.
"At that stretch they weren't double-teaming him in the post, so he got opportunities," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. "They double-teamed him a lot early, they double-teamed him a lot in Game 1.
"I mean, we can get him the ball, and we made a conscious effort to get him the ball tonight, if you look at his 10 field goal attempts and 12 free throws with all the double-teams. So we made an attempt to get him the ball, but we can't control their defense. And if they're going to double-team, he's going to have to pass the ball."
The Magic had a much more balanced offensive attack than they had in Game 1 when they rode Jameer Nelson's 32 points to a nine-point victory, but Howard was once again saddled with foul trouble and was on the court for only 28½ minutes after playing a shade under 28 in the previous game.
Asked afterward if he was concerned he was not getting the respect a superstar deserves, Howard had a five-word answer: "Yeah. It's a big concern."
Van Gundy also made a point of making an issue of Howard's foul trouble afterward -- and Larry Brown also did his best to draw attention to the officiating, while carefully straddling the fine line of not saying anything too harsh that might draw a fine from the league office.
First, Van Gundy:
"It's just so frustrating because his first four fouls -- look I'm not saying they're not fouls, I haven't looked at the tape. But there's certainly nothing blatant, there's nothing where it's obvious to everybody that that was a foul. I just don't see the other great players in this league on the bench all the time with foul trouble, especially on marginal calls, I just don't. You're sitting there on all of those and going, 'Wow, really? That's a foul?' And clearly our defense is at a whole different level when he's in the game, so we've got to find a way to get him on the court for 38-39 minutes, particularly on the road in Charlotte. It'll be tough for us to survive with him playing only 28 minutes."
Brown repeatedly brought up the 35-18 free throw disparity that favored Orlando, noting that only three of his players went to the line, one of whom, Tyson Chandler, had only one attempt.
The Bobcats clearly felt they were being disrespected by the referees, too, and Stephen Jackson was the most demonstrative in showing his distaste after he was stripped of the ball with 2:27 remaining after the Bobcats had cut their deficit down to eight.
Following referees Bill Spooner and Bennett Salvatore around, Jackson kept his headband in the same position -- below his ears and covering one of his eyes -- it had been in after he had the ball taken away. Afterward, he sarcastically praised the job the officials did.
What Jackson and Brown didn't point out, but what bears mentioning, is that the Bobcats had an equal number of fouls and field goals (29). But what doomed Charlotte even more was its lack of success in taking care of the ball, committing 14 of its 21 turnovers in a brutally ugly first half that ended with the Magic ahead 41-30.
Charlotte's field goal total did not surpass its turnover total until 56 seconds remained in the third quarter, negating the success it did have in containing Howard when it did use a double-team and did attack him at the rim, causing the foul trouble.
"I didn't see them press us. I didn't see them trap us, and I thought we couldn't have played better defensively. We were doing some pretty good things to fight back from down 22," Brown said. "But we had three guys that went to the line, and one took one free throw, and we can't play that way. Maybe we need to get more respect."
Funny, but that's pretty much what Howard said, too.
"Like I said, I try not to get frustrated, and it's very tough trying to block shots, rebound and get physical, and sometimes the whistle doesn't go your way. But my teammates do the best they can in keeping me from losing my head. I haven't done it in six years."
Come Saturday in Game 3, we'll see whether all the chatter from after Game 2 translates into both teams -- and the newly minted two-time defensive player of the year -- getting a level of respect they feel they deserve.