Highlightin’ Hoops: It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Dwight Howard
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By Ryan Schneider
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Backtrack to 1932… an American writer by the name of Jerry Siegel and his artistic counterpart Joe Shuster created a character, a superhero that possessed extraordinary powers. He was, “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” Yes, we all know who this tagline belongs to… Superman.
He has become an icon that is synonymous with superhuman qualities. In the 80 years that have followed since its inception, George Reeves, Christopher Reeves, Dean Cain, Tom Welling and Brandon Routh all played the character on the small or silver screen. But did any of them possess the real-life attributes seen by Dwight Howard night in and night out?
It wouldn’t surprise me if Howard laces up a cape after the game and flies home…did you see him grab the ball out of the air last night? One of the alley-oop passes from Turkoglu looked like it was headed for the second deck. He made Ronny Turiaf (who is 6’10, 250) look like a first grader playing on the middle-school playground. He may not be faster than a speeding bullet, but he can cover 90 feet with about 6 strides, so that’s good enough for me.
The Knicks got a first hand look at why size matters last night. Howard single-handedly dominated the first quarter. He put up 17 points, including 5 field goals all within three feet of the basket. The dominance by D12 in the first frame was a reason the Knicks were buried in an 11-point hole heading into the second quarter. For the record…ummm, Shawne Williams is 6’9 225, he is also a small forward, why was he guarding Howard?
I know…because the only other viable option was Turiaf…but you know what? Turiaf was more effective than Williams. At least Ronny was able to push back a little bit. In the early part of the game Howard was able to get position so deep in the lane that it didn’t matter if the Knicks were sending all 12 men at Dwight, he wasn’t being stopped. The times that he was “temporarily” contained, he wound up making a trip to the free throw line.
For the next 23 minutes and 47 seconds the Knicks were the better team. They had a tremendous defensive second quarter, holding the Magic to a mere 15 points on an abysmal 3-17 shooting. Some of it was due to Howard spending the first five minutes on the bench. But I liked what I saw out of the Knicks going into halftime. They were rotating nicely, closing out with a high-hand on shooters, and finishing off hard fought defensive possessions with good team rebounding.
It’s impossible to talk about the solid defensive second quarter without mentioning Anthony Carter. The guy has heart, and he plays very hard. He is a liability offensively, no question about that…however, the Knicks seemingly play better defense when he is out there. There were also a couple of minutes of Carter and Chauncey Billups on the floor at the same time, which I don’t hate, especially when Toney Douglas struggles (which has been every game since his 10-12 outing against the Bucks).
By the way I loved what I saw on a couple of 2nd quarter possessions from Amar’e and Carmelo. The play is “Elbow.” Amare sets up back to the basket on the left elbow…Anthony is in the ball side corner…Billups passes to STAT and runs by to a step outside the ball side block…he sets a near-side slice cut for Anthony who got a couple of lay-ups and short jumpers on the move. It’s only been four games, but we are starting to see more of Amare and ‘Melo playing on the same side of the ball.
The Knicks start the second half with a 58-47 lead, and are on pace to hold the Magic to 94 for the game. The momentum is clearly in their favor and these are their first three offensive possessions: Billups misses a 3, Shawne Williams misses a 3, Landry Fields misses a 3. The Chauncey three came at the end of the shot clock, so I can’t be upset about that one…but Fields and Williams both shot theirs 7 seconds into the possession…you have to get something better.
There was a nice ebb and flow to the third quarter. The Magic made a run to close it within 4, but the Knicks answered right back and pushed it up to 10. With 1:24 left in the third, the Knicks were in the drivers seat, up 84-73. And then it went all downhill…
Amazing how much can change over the course of the game…in the first quarter it was Howard’s overpowering, physical dominance that was too much for the Knicks…in the last 13:13 it was the explosive speed of Jameer Nelson (the smallest guy on the floor) wreaking havoc. Billups looked very much his age defensively down the stretch, as Nelson torched him with a full repertoire of offensive weapons. It wasn’t very complicated. Most of the time Nelson and Howard were involved in pick and roll action at the top of the key. Stoudemire allowed too much space on the hedge, which would allow for Nelson to split the defenders…or Billups was caught under the screen, which gave 14 too much room to get his shot off.
You can’t blame all of tonight’s defensive shortcomings on Billups…let’s give the 34-year old vet credit, he put up a 30 spot of his own and knocked down 18 of 20 free throws. Let’s hope that the deep left thigh bruise that Billups suffered in the fourth quarter won’t cause him to miss any games. Spread it around to the other four guys who forgot about the hard closeouts and energetic rotations employed just two quarters earlier. It was amazing to see how quickly those steadfast defensive principles went by the wayside as one open shooter after another knocked down six threes in the final 13 minutes.
It’s hard to point fingers at the offense when you put up 110 points…but there is still a lot of room for improvement for STAT, ‘Melo and co. The Knicks will struggle in close games if they continue to attempt 30 three-pointers a game. They have two of the best scorers in the game whose strengths lie inside the arc. As the chemistry develops one can only hope there will be a bit more of an emphasis on the mid-close-range parts of the offense.
Knicks fans don’t remember what this feels like. For the last ten years New Yorkers were gearing up for spring training and counting down the minutes to opening day. Now basketball has some meaning in March…and it’s a loss like this that hurts. As we move into the fourth quarter of the regular season each game holds more weight than the next. And on a day when the Sixers lost and the Hawks didn’t play, one can only think that last night was missed opportunity.
Will the addition of Jared Jeffries help the Knicks stop a big man like Dwight Howard? Can anybody stop him? Sound off in the comments below…