Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 4/19/12
Up until late March of this year, Dwight Howard seemed almost indestructible. The 1 pick in the 2004 NBA draft played in 351 consecutive games for the Orlando Magic (5 seasons) before missing his first game. He had only missed a grand total of 7 regular season games in his first 7 years in the league until this season. The superman moniker seemed appropriate. Now, for first time in Howards basketball career, he has suffered a significant injury. Reports surfaced on Thursday night that Dwight Howard will undergo back surgery, effectively ending any hopes the Magic had of retaining Dwight's services for a playoff run. And the Magic, for the first time in more than 7 seasons, are finding out what life is like on the basketball court without the 6-time all-star. Howard has already missed eight games since first suffering from back spasms after a rough and tumble game against the Dallas Mavericks on March 30th. The team has fought hard in those eight games, at times has been a bit of a throwback to the heart and hustle Magic team of 1999-00, but overall the results have been predictable. The Magic without Dwight Howard can still score points. They are averaging 99 points per game in his absence, almost five more than they were scoring with him. They still make and take a lot of threes (just under their season averages of 10 for 27 per game). And with every player doing what he can to pick up the slack for the leagues leading rebounder, the Magic, without Howard, are outrebounding their opponents 41.2-38.7 per game, a bigger margin than before Dwights injury. Where the Magic are hurting most is at the defensive end of the floor, which should come as no great surprise since Howard is the NBAs three time defending defensive player of the year. The numbers tell the story. Without Howard the Magic are giving up almost 98 points per game, more than five more than with him. Alarmingly, teams are shooting over 49 against the Magic, and almost 37 from beyond the arc (up from 44 and 34.5). And without Howard patrolling the defensive area around the basket, teams no longer fear driving the ball to the rim against Orlando. The Magic surrender over 40 points per game in the paint, over five more than with Dwight. Coach Stan Van Gundy has made the point, and it is a valid one, that in 7 of the 8 games Howard has missed, the Magic have also been without the services of Hedo Turkoglu. Thats two key starters out of the lineup. While Turk is certainly a valuable asset on the offensive end (the Magic sorely miss his playmaking ability), Hedo has never been known as a wing stopper on the defensive end of the floor. The bottom line result for the Magic: since the first of April, when Dwight Howard has not played, Orlando has a record of 3-5. They are still a playoff team, but the question begs to be asked, Now that Howard is unable to return to the court for the playoffs, can the Magic win a post-season series without him? The answer is yes, but it will not be easy. The Magic can score the basketball. They can play a lot of pick and roll offense on the perimeter with talented offensive players like Ryan Anderson, J.J. Redick and Jameer Nelson. Glen Davis can create matchup problems on offense at the center position. The team has shown that it can play with grit and heart. But on the defensive end of the floor, that will get you only so far. Without Howard, the Magic must find a way to slow down opposing offenses. Players will have to be more committed to stopping the advancement of the ball. Everyone will have to take their defensive efforts to a new level. With Howard, the Magic were what they had been for the last 7 seasons, one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA. Without Dwight Howard in the playoffs, the Magic are an underdog team with perhaps a little more than a punchers chance.
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