Nearing Technical Foul Suspension, Dwight Howard Rallying Magic
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Magic center Dwight Howard received his 15th technical foul of the season Friday night, leaving him one shy of an automatic suspension, a cloud that now will hang over the final 23 games of the regular season.
But he also will be scary at playoff time.
Howard leads the NBA in technical fouls -- and at least one one-game suspension looks inevitable -- but he also made it clear that the Magic could be a real wild-card team when the playoffs begin.
Despite the Magic's struggles with consistency all season, Howard's growing dominance and recent willingness to hold his teammates accountable, still makes them dangerous for any opponent -- even if no one thinks they are a serious contender anymore.
"We don't care what anything says or thinks about us,'' Howard said after another Herculean effort Friday. "We know we can beat any team in the league.''
The Magic throttled short-handed Oklahoma City, 111-88, again riding Howard, who had 40 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots, a trifecta that no one else in the NBA has matched since Shaquille O'Neal in 1999.
The Magic (37-22) are resting in the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference, having already beaten the Celtics, Heat, Lakers and Spurs, while losing to the Raptors, Pistons and Kings.
"We just have to be more consistent, to sacrifice every night. We have to do this against all teams,'' he said. "If we do that, we can reach our goal (of winning a championship).''
Although the Magic have lost seven of their last 15 games, falling well behind Boston, Miami and Chicago in the East, Howard's offensive output has been better than any time in his career. He has scored 30 points or more in four consecutive games and five of his last six.
He also has made 32 of 41 free throws in his last four games, a statistic that should make everyone else in the East a little nervous.
The Magic were coming off a disastrous game on Wednesday, a lackluster effort against the lowly Sacramento Kings, who had been blown out the night before in Miami.
It was after that loss that Howard -- who had 31 points and 17 rebounds -- criticized his teammates for a lack of effort, telling them they should pull themselves out of the game if they couldn't put forth more effort. It was one of the first times that Howard had taken his teammates to task.
And it obviously worked. The Magic smothered the Thunder, holding All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to a combined 14 of 41 field goals.
Although Howard's message was the same thing that Magic coach Stan Van Gundy had been saying, that they needed to bring more energy and focus, it seemed to resonate more when Howard said it.
"They got tired of hearing me a long time ago,'' Van Gundy said. "What Dwight had to say is good. It's one thing to speak up, but when you back it up with 40 points and 15 rebounds, it means more. It means more when he says it. When he and I are on the same page -- and we usually are -- it works.''
The Magic still believe they can be the surprise team in the East, with or without home court advantage, in the playoffs. Much of that is due to Howard.
They received a confidence boost earlier this week when the Celtics traded away center Kendrick Perkins. He may be the only center in the East who has defended Howard successfully by himself, allowing the other defenders to snuff out Orlando's outside shooting.
The Celtics, who beat the Magic in the conference final last spring, easily could be a second-round opponent.
"I'm trying to be a leader, in the locker room, in practice, in the game,'' Howard said. "I wasn't calling anyone out. My message was simple. If we stick together, we can get this done.''