Magic GM Gives Howard Tough Love
Howard, some of his teammates, and even coach Stan Van Gundy, have blamed the officiating for at least a portion of the constant foul trouble that plagued Howard in the opening playoff series against the Charlotte Bobcats.
Howard fouled out in two of the four games. He finished with 22 fouls and averaged only 26.5 minutes, reducing him to only a shell of the player he had been during the regular season.
The Magic still swept the Bobcats, but they also know they can't win very often if Howard can't stay on the court. And while teammates have sympathized with Howard's plight, Smith essentially told him to man up.
"Guess what? These are the playoffs. He has to understand that. Teams are going to do whatever they have to do to knock him off his game,'' Smith said. "They pulled him, grabbed him and held him. Teams are not going to allow you to run freely in the playoffs. If I'm the opposing team, I'd do the exact same thing Charlotte did. Instead of getting frustrated, he has to learn to adjust.''
Howard was limited to just 9.8 points and 9.3 rebounds, dramatically fewer than the 18.3 and 13.2 he averaged during the regular season. Smith, who was once a no-nonsense player, has been a no-nonsense general manager. He criticized his star player instead of criticizing officials.
"Officials are human. They make mistakes, sometimes in your favor, sometimes in the other team's favor. But it all balances out,'' he said. "Just play basketball, and stop worrying about the calls. Are you going to get some bad calls? Sure. Are you going to get some good ones? Sure. Those people running around in stripes are just like me -- the more you yell at them, the worse they get. If you smile a little bit more, and you talk to them, you may get one.''
A few of Howard's fouls in the opening round were foolish fouls when he should have shown more restraint. Others came when he was wrestling in the lane with one of the three Charlotte centers who were more interested in aggravating him than making basketball plays.
Howard struggled with foul trouble early in the playoffs last season, too. Like many stars in the game today, though, he rarely admits to a personal foul against him, complaining to officials when calls don't go in his favor. And that's not something Smith likes. Howard still believes he doesn't get the "star calls,'' that others like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant often receive.
"I don't buy into that concept at all. Zero. I think over the course of a 48-minute game, it all comes back around,'' Smith said. "This time of year, the officials do a pretty good job. We've got another round of this, and it's going to be just the same. He needs to be on the floor longer than 28 minutes. That's not on the officials. That's not on Stan. That's on Dwight. Life's tough. You're a big guy. Sorry. Move on.''
The Magic, who finished off the Bobcats on Monday, certainly will be well rested before the next series starts against either the Bucks or the Hawks. Game 1 will be either Sunday or next Tuesday.
"The break should help him settle down. The more he worried about it, the worse it got. He just bought into everyone talking about his fouls,'' Smith said. "He just needs to play. If he isn't playing, it puts his team in a bind.''
Howard, after practice and the talk with Smith, was considerably more subdued than usual. He didn't emerge from the locker room and the practice facility until long after his teammates were gone Thursday.
"I can't allow the fouls to make me less aggressive. I just have to work through it,'' he said. "Whatever happened in the last series is over and done with. I'm looking forward, not back. My team needs me on the floor. I know that.''