Dwight Howard was dominant in his return to Orlando. Not because he hit a stupidly-inflated amount of free throws as he plodded up to the charity stripe for 39 free throw attempts. Not because he dove into the heart of the city he once called home and emerged with the bleeding organ in his hand. Not even because he grabbed 12+ rebounds for the 11th straight game.
He was dominant because he looked like the three-time Defensive Player of the Year that the Lakers acquired this past Summer. His conditioning and focus look better with each passing game. On a hardwood floor plastered with an Orlando Magic logo he once again looked like the most dominant defensive big man in the NBA.
Howard set the tone in the first quarter as he detonated the Magic's pick and roll game single-handedly. Looking over the stats, when Howard was in the game the Magic's average shot distance was 10.64 feet from the basket. When he was out? 7.34 feet. With advanced defensive statistics still widely unable to measure the metrics, the fact that Howard kept the Magic nearly three feet further from the rim when he was in the game is a great indicator of how dominant he was at locking down the paint.
Yes, that monster in the moat kept the invaders away from the keep.
In this edition of the playbook we'll take a look at how Dwight denied the Magic's offense early in the game.
The Magic set a high-screen with Nikolas Vucevic.
Jameer Nelson goes over the top, Howard is reading the offense to pick out which way Nelson will take the screen.
Howard rotates and gets down in a defensive stance. Nelson stops in his tracks and kicks the ball out to Tobias Harris. Harris passes the ball back to Nelson who takes a contested isolation three that misses. This is a great example of Howard facing the Magic to hit outside jumpers, and why the Magic's shot distance was further away from the rim while he was patrolling the paint.
Arron Afflalo is going to go under the screen that Vucevic sets.
This is a great defensive set from the Lakers. Kobe recognizes the screen and opens up his stance, effectively funneling Afflalo into Howard who is ready to protect the rim.
Howard digs down and slides his feet to stay with Afflalo. With Kobe funneling, he never eats the screen and is quick to recover.
Afflalo is trapped far away from the rim. Kobe throws his hands up and the Lakers have effectively... gasp... TRAPPED somebody. A rarity this season.
They push Afflalo to the baseline, but he kicks the ball out to Tobias Harris who hits the three and gets the first points on the board for Orlando. Regardless of the outcome, this is another great example of Howard sealing off the paint and forcing shots from the perimeter.
Another pick and roll attempt.
Nash is caught by the screen and Nelson will run into Dwight.
Instead of challenging Howard, he kicks the ball to the perimeter to Harris. Howard again sealed off the paint and is down in a defensive stance, ready to pick up Nelson. He recovers and rotates over to the weak side.
Metta World Peace recovers, but Harris drives to the rim.
No dice. Howard rotated quick enough after stopping the pick and roll and leaps up for a block.
A pause from the defense, and a reminder of how important it is to have a big man who has great foot speed and can recover.
Also, a good time to reflect on how great it is that Howard is setting strong screens now.
See how far out Vucevic is from Nash, and the lack of a strong defensive stance to slide his feet and cover ground?
An easy two-point shot for Steve Cash.
Speaking of great footwork and a defensive stance...
Nelson gets the separation from Nash after the screen is set, watch Dwight's feet as he rotates to defend this play.
He keeps his left pivot foot down and shifts his right back, opening his stance.
As Nelson proves, he moves his body right and continues to seal.
Nash eventually recovers and this is another pick and roll set sent to the graveyard.
Now, a perfect defensive sequence from Dwight Howard in every sense.
Udrih tries to lower his head and drive by, but Howard pokes the ball loose and the play resets with Udrih recovering.
The Magic swing the ball over to Arron Afflalo. Harrington sets another screen.
Footwork time! Howard opens up his stance as he picks up Afflalo.
As Afflalo drives Howard keeps his right foot as a pivot and shifts with the momentum of Afflalo. Still, Afflalo creates separation from Howard by lowering his shoulder into him and pushing off.
No matter, as Howard recovers and climbs up for another huge block. A phenomenal sequence with Howard demolishing two pick and rolls and recovering for a block.
Dwight Howard has looked as dominant as he has the entire season since the All-Star break. He went into Orlando and looked as if he never left, echoing the kind of performance that his old self in that white and blue jersey would have hung his hat on. If he can continue blowing up dribble penetration, as he has frequently in the last few weeks, the Lakers can continue rolling into the playoffs. Simple schemes, like Kobe Bryant funneling the ball-handler into Howard, become much more effective when Howard is able to do his part.
With more familiarity through the team with their sudden defensive monster, the more natural sequences like that will occur. And, just as a refrain on the point earlier on the shot distance when Howard was in and out of the game (nearly three feet of space that Howard took away from Orlando), here are two shot distribution charts from the Orlando Magic:
The First - Distribution of shots in Tuesday's game
Only 30 of the Magic's 93 field goal attempts came around the rim, or 32.26 percent of their shot selection. 32 percent of the Magic's attempts came from beyond the arc.
The Second - Distribution of Orlando's shots on the season
On average through the season, the Magic have taken 41.01 percent of their shots around the rim. A near ten percent drop-off from the game they put on against the Lakers. Only 22 percent of their shots were coming from beyond the arc, and through the majority of the season they had J.J. Redick who was shooting 39 percent from deep on his 300 attempts.
Dwight Howard is going to move down and slip the screen without even setting it. He literally just jogs through the gap.
He keeps rolling to the rim and both Magic defenders are hounding Kobe.
Kobe hits Dwight with a perfect bounce pass as he closes in on the rim. Harris is close enough to challenge the dunk but...
Winds up on the other end of the key? No matter. DWIGHT SMASH!
Good fight, good night, Orlando.
- Follow this author on Twitter @DrewGarrisonSBN
- Shot distance information pulled from NBAWOWY.com