Dwight Howard announced he’ll be staying with the Orlando Magic until the end of the season, after he had an huge 24 point, 25 rebound night, leading his team to a overtime 104-98 win over the Miami Heat, as LeBron James was having one of his weakest games this season.
Weak? It’s all relative – 19 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists. But it also came with six turnovers and 7-20 from the field. Chris Bosh with 23 and Dwyane Wade with 28 led the way in the Florida Derby, not nearly enough on a night in which Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson alone outrebounded the Miami Heat 37-36.
It was about effort, more than anything, and perseverance. The Orlando Magic came from behind and overcame a 20-0 Miami run. Maybe it was the thought that this was Dwight Howard’s final home game as an Orlando Magic player that created all that hustle, or maybe it was the sweating Stan Van Gundy. It was Howard’s 8th 20-20 game of the season and 40th of his career.
They simply upped the defensive effort midway through the third quarter. Miami looked tapped out. James and Wade started settling for jumpers, while Howard closed down the paint. He rejected James twice in overtime, leading to Jameer Nelson putting the game away for good. Howard was terrible, himself, from the line, shooting an abysmal 6-18. He made up for it with 12 fourth quarter points and an announcement, that for a short while at least, unless something unexpected happens in the next 48 hours, puts the trade rumors to bed.
Did that prove to Howard whatever he needed? I’m not sure. The Magic needed an effort that’s just not doable for seven games in the playoffs. Miami won’t falter like that every night, Dwyane Wade won’t miss game winning shots every night like just before the game went to overtime. He’s gambling on free agency, with the option of opting out of the contract when the season ends. He needs to see that there isn’t anything better right now around the league, and I think he realized that getting traded won’t mean a better team with the current possibilities around him.
For the Heat, it’s a loss that came at the worst time possible – a day before playing the Chicago Bulls, in Chicago. It’ll be their first visit to the United Center since the playoffs last season, but back-to-back, heading into Chicago after they’re rested, against a super hot Derrick Rose, following a tough loss to the Magic? For the Heat, with a 31-10 record, 2.5 games behind the Bulls, it’s almost like a must win game or lose significant ground in the home court advantage race.