Magic Sweep Despite Howard's New 'Foul On You' Nickname
Dwight Howard could laugh about his temporary change of nicknames, from the Superman moniker he loves to the "Foul On You'' tag he was playfully given by his teammates a few days ago.
It might not be a joking matter in the next series.
The Magic completed a first-round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats Monday night, doing it with a glaring absence of Howard, who went from franchise center to franchise foul throughout the series.
It was the first time in history the Magic ever have swept a playoff opponent in a seven-game series, but they strangely did it without the dominance they have come to expect from Howard.
They should get plenty of rest before meeting the winner of the Milwaukee and Atlanta series, which is tied at two. Neither of those teams, though, will be as forgiving if Howard doesn't rediscover the game that made him a Most Valuable Player candidate during the regular season.
Howard spent the series in foul trouble. He accumulated 22 fouls in four games, and he fouled out twice, including Monday night's 99-90, series clincher. He never played more than 29 minutes in any game, showing his frustration throughout the four games.
He had just six points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots in his 23 minutes Monday. The team's leading scorer during the regular season (18.3 ppg), he averaged only 9.7 points in the first round.
He did average 9.2 rebounds and five blocks -- which is indicative of him winning the Defensive Player of the Year award for the second consecutive year. It was good enough for the opening round because the Bobcats just didn't have the kind of firepower they will see as the playoffs progress.
"If you had told me that Dwight would average less than 30 minutes, and we'd sweep this series, I would have said you were crazy,'' Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said at the postgame press conference Monday. "I would have said no way that could happen. It's a testament to the other guys. We always found somebody to get it going.''
Point guard Jameer Nelson, who wasn't part of the playoff run a year ago, came out of nowhere to score 32 points twice in the series. On Monday, it was Vince Carter and his 14 second-half points that carried the load. Mickael Pietrus hit back-to-back 3-pointers -- sandwiched around a Howard block -- that broke the Bobcats late in the game.
"We still need (Howard) on the floor,'' Carter said. " We can go only as far as he'll take us."
Teammates came up with the nickname in hopes of loosening the mood around Howard. They started talking about it more openly at Monday's morning workout. Before Game 4, Howard was joking with reporters about his new tag.
He also knows he has to lose it soon if the Magic hope to repeat last year's trip to the NBA Finals.