With Bullseye on His Chest (and Mouth), Superman Saves The Series for Orlando

Daniel ShanksAnalyst IMay 15, 2009

PHOENIX - FEBRUARY 14:  Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic emerges from a phone booth wearing a Superman cape during the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest on All-Star Saturday Night, part of 2009 NBA All-Star Weekend at US Airways Center on February 14, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Dwight Howard knew what he had to do.

After publicly calling out his coach after a frustrating game five loss, the center called Superman understood that all the pressure would be on him in game six.

In true superhero fashion, Howard stepped up when his team needed him the most. He had his fifth career 20-20 game in the playoffs with 23 points, 22 rebounds and, most importantly, he helped forced a game seven.

As soon as he blasted Stan Van Gundy's coaching decisions in that interview, Howard should have recognized that the spotlight was going to be on him in game six. Whether he was justified in saying what he said or not was inconsequential. He said what he said and it was too late to take it back. All he could do at that point was let his play did the talking, which he certainly did.

Personally, I agree with what Howard said about SVG. The coach's substitution patterns made no sense. His decisions seemed very scatter-brained and very unbecoming a coach who has done an excellent job in his two years in Orlando and his previous stint with Miami.

However, his actions were VERY indicative of a "Master of Panic," which is what Shaq dubbed SVG during the course of their verbal spat earlier this year. Wonder if there's any truth in that nickname...

While Howard was spot on with his criticism, the fourth quarter collapse in game five had more to do with No. 12 than anyone else on the court or the bench. After building a 14-point lead, the Magic appeared to be content to jack up silly three-pointers and let their lead gradually disappear.

As soon as this starts to happen (and Magic fans can tell you it has happened plenty in the playoffs), Howard MUST demand the ball. This team was meant to run the offense inside-out, not outside-in. But Howard seemed content to drift and try to get the rebound. He's too much of a force to not have the ball in his hands down the stretch.

The problem is that Howard's weaknesses—controlling the ball and making free throws—are as powerful as kryptonite in the fourth quarters of games.

Teammates don't want to pass him the ball because they're not confident he'll make his free throws. (He went 5-of-12 from the charity stripe last night).

If he made anywhere close to 70 percent of his free throws, he'd easily average 30 points a game and would be a perennial NBA MVP candidate.

Howard also has a tendency to get the ball stolen when he's in the post. He has to work on making quicker moves to the basket (instead of that patented high dribble that is a gimme for guys like Rajon Rondo, Eddie House, Paul Pierce, etc.).

He also needs to work on making quicker passes. As soon as he sees the double-team coming, the ball should be out of his hands. Make the defense work hard. His teammates will get better looks, as will he.

The last thing D. Howard has to do to become a dominant post player is to establish position down low. There have been way too many times in the Boston series that he catches the ball 10-15 feet away from the basket and tries to go to work. In that scenario, kick it back out and try to re-post.

Chances are his defender will get tired of keeping him out of the paint, and Howard will score easy baskets.

While game five wasn't Stan Van Gundy's finest hour, it is Howard, not Van Gundy, who will determine how good this team can be in the coming years.