There were a few moments when he returned to the bench Sunday night looking frustrated, but that occurred at times last season, too.
“I just didn’t think he played real well,” Van Gundy said.
A reporter followed-up by asking if Howard looked “disengaged.”
“So if he has a bad game, now it’s going to be he’s ‘disengaged?’ That’s B.S. That’s after-the-fact stuff. No, he just didn’t play well. I don’t think he was disengaged at all. I thought his effort was good.”
Jump shots after jump shots after jump shots. The Magic sure do like jump shots. There was very little sync to the offense and even less up and down action. The Magic scored few points in the point and didn’t score a single fast break point the entire game.
The defense was just as porous. Rotations were slow, help defense was non-existent and the Magic regularly were consistently beaten down the court in transition.
And that was the big issue tonight. The lethargy led to the team settling for shots. And that made the team more lethargic. Clearly the key with this team, as Stan Van Gundy will agree, is to draw in defenders to get open shots. The team cannot simply rely on shooting itself out of holes. They have to move the ball and work inside out.
Orlando did not feel like doing that tonight. And you can see the results.
This was an opening game to forget on several accounts. Pont guard Jameer Nelson missed all 10 of his shots, while Glen “Big Baby’’ hit just two of eight tries in his first game in a Magic uniform. Hedo Turkoglu injured his hip on a hard fall, and the Magic looked as if they were running in mud most of the night as the Heat outraced them for one layup after another.
“When you have a team outscore you 22-0 on fastbreak points they’re clearly playing at a pace and an energy level higher than you. We simply could not keep up,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “And once we got behind I didn’t think we fought it out to very well. We didn’t compete very well and the defense was bad.’’
One of them, Dexter Pittman, is not yet in NBA shape and he struggled to keep up with the flow of the game at times, lagging behind the pack. Yet when they were on the floor together, Pittman clearly played with more intensity and aggression than Howard. He scored more points and had half of Howard’s rebound total in 17 fewer minutes.
So it was a bad game for Howard. But it also begged the question of whether it was a message from a guy who has demanded repeatedly to be traded. The Magic currently are not in the mood to trade him; they’ve technically pulled him off the market.
The Heat’s biggest weakness is the Magic’s biggest strength — their inside game with Howard to counter Miami’s play on the wings. They didn’t exploit it.
Did the Magic get the ball to Howard as much as possible? No. Way too many jump shots in the third quarter for a team not close to being in tune.
Did Dwight fight as hard as possible to spring open for the ball? We’ve seen him more determined to be sure, even battling double teams and clusters of defenders in the paint.
Miami center Dexter Pittman, 304 pounds, sort of put his big body on him the way Jason Collins has during some of his successful matchups with Howard.
Let’s face it: This is a difficult situation for Howard and the team. Everyone has to live with it, from the lockeroom to the court.
(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger, ESPN Florida’s Magic Insider (http://ESPNFlorida.com) and is the co-host of the ESPNFlorida.com Insiders Show Sunday mornings at 10:00 am EST. Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Facebook and follow him onTwitter to follow him daily. You can download the HTD app here)