Dwight Howard-the rich man's Al Jefferson
Let’s start with for starters: Dwight Howard is a very good basketball player. He is young, he is tall, he can jump very high, and, for most of Tuesday’s T-Wolves—Magic game, he made Al Jefferson look like an intimidated, overmatched, borderline-incompetent defender.
Jefferson got his game going late—he wound up with an entirely respectable 25 points on 11/20 shooting, along with 10 boards—but for the first three quarters, it was painful watching him try to defend Howard. At one point in the second quarter, Howard had the ball a good six feet from the basket, and Jefferson decided his best option was to wrap his opponent in a bear hug. Not a good sign, but an entirely emblematic one.
The score reflected this mismatch. The Wolves started the fourth quarter down 88-74. But as Jefferson got in the flow of his offense—hitting his patented running leaners and his turnaround ten-footers—and as others, like Marko Jaric, hit a couple big shots down the stretch, the Wolves used a 14-0 run to close the gap to 92-90 halfway through the final frame.
Fittingly, though, it was the Howard-Jefferson match-up that sealed the game. The Magic were up 104-100 with 1:50 remaining when Howard, deep in the shot clock, missed a point-blank shot in the paint. Jefferson, playing Howard tight, was in position for the rebound, but Howard reached around him—it’s a cliché, but he just seemed to want it more—and put his own miss back up. He missed, but Jefferson fouled him, and Howard nailed both free-throws.
There were some positives. Marko Jaric had easily his best game of the season, with 10 points, 10 dishes, and only one turnover. With Rashad McCants out for the last three quarters with an ankle sprain (and possibly out for a while, unfortunately), Jaric alternated between the point and off guard. Among other things, he got into a nice rhythm with Antoine Walker, setting him up in the block a few times.
The Serbian Stallion still seems a step slow—especially against quick point guards like Carlos Arroyo—and a little out of control. Kind of like he might trip over himself at any moment and all will be lost. But when he’s confident, which he was for most of the night, he gets to the hoop and isn’t afraid to finish strong. This helps his game tremendously, as it frees up passing lanes—for all his faults, Marko is an above-average passer—and gives him the space he needs to take his shots. Marko hit a couple big deep shots down the stretch.
In other news, Bassie Telfair, while not the smooth floor general we all hope he will one day become, took a lot fewer shots—five—than he had in recent games. True, he only made one of them, but he also did a better job of getting the ball inside to Jefferson.
Trillion watch: We're happy to report that we have witnessed our first trillion of the year. The honor goes to Trevor Ariza. In a way, it's only half a trillion, since he only played 32 seconds. But! That's not how the stat sheets read. In basketball, as in life, we round up. Trevor, here's to you, and to many trillions more.
An honorable mention goes to Chris Richard, the Wolves' rookie making his NBA regular-season debut tonight(!). Checking in midway through the third quarter, Richard notched a personal foul and a blocked shot-and nothing else-in 4:22 of action.
Locker room notes: If Antoine Walker is fat, we don’t know what that makes us. Dude was topless during the post-game press availability, and we just have to say, he is not fat. Svelte? By professional athlete standards (John Kruk notwithstanding) it’s probably the wrong adjective. But fat? Only if you’re looking at his reflection in a funhouse mirror. He has a round face. Always has. That much we’ll give Pat Riley. Also, he did take—and miss—more than his share of shots. But that's a different issue.
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