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Looking into Dwight Howard’s struggles against the Heat last season

Although the Heat and Magic regular season series was tied at 2-2, Dwight Howard had a difficult time against the Heat to score on a consistent basis and dominate a game last season. His 11.5 scoring average against the Heat was the worst against any team except the San Antonio Spurs (9.5, in only two games) and tied with the Portland Trailblazers (again, in just two games). His FG% of 40.6 against Miami was the worst except for the Denver Nuggets (36.3 in just two games). He only averaged 3.3 field goals in 8 attempts. He averaged a paltry 31 minutes, likely due to the fact that he had 4.5 fouls per game. All of this was against a Heat team that Charles Barkley referred to as "Michael and a bunch of Titos". Could the new-look Heat team replicate this success against Howard this season? Let’s go to the Synergy tape and see what worked against Howard and what didn’t. Heat 99 – Magic 98 In the first game of the season series, the Heat won by one point in Orlando behind a put-back dunk by Michael Beasley with less than 2 seconds left in the game. Howard scored 12 points on only 3-5 shooting from the field and going 6-11 from the line in 35 minutes to go along with 5 fouls and 16 rebounds. Playing with that many fouls might have had something to do with his offensive shyness as he only committed one foul in the second half with 6:39 to play. His first basket of the game was an easy dunk off a perfect Jason Williams pass into the paint for the trailing Howard after a Beasley turnover. Not only did the pass gift-wrap the basket but also he already had Beasley beat to the rim. Yes, Beasley was guarding him. The second basket was right before halftime with Howard getting perfect position right in front of the basket on Jermaine O’Neal. As soon as the pass comes in from the middle of the perimeter, O’Neal has no choice but to wrap him up but Howard overpowers and gets the basket anyway. The only other basket of the game was courtesy of a beautiful dish by Ryan Anderson who cut to the basket but wrapped his arm around Joel Anthony, who was covering Howard but committed to protect the basket, which left a wide open dunk by Howard who was camped in front of the rim. The two shots he missed were a failed tip-in and a shot right by the rim off a spin move after posting up O’Neal. So he didn’t really create any offense of his own with any jumpers, post-up moves or shaking free of his man with some nice footwork. His only 3 baskets were dunks that were the result of good positioning against overmatched opponents and superb passing from his teammates. While the Magic enjoyed solid games from Jason Williams and Vince Carter, the player who struggled the most to score apart from Howard was Rashard Lewis who was 3 of 15 from the field for 9 points. Heat 104 – Magic 86 Lewis also struggled in the second game of the series with 9 points again, this time from 3 of 9 shooting. On the other hand, Howard had much more of a typical game by his standards with 17 points on 6 of 11 shooting and 14 rebounds. The Heat still blew out the Magic by 18 at home for their second straight win of the series. His first basket came off an O’Neal missed jumper in the first quarter that gave Howard a slight lead over positioning in the paint. Williams immediately brought the ball upcourt, saw him and lofted the ball over the defense for the catch and the And 1 as O’Neal once again tried to wrap him up. The second basket also took place in the first quarter and featured all the Magic players touching the ball as the swung the ball around with four Magic players camped outside the three-point line as Howard got positioning inside the paint. Once he caught the ball he scored with a nifty hook shot over O’Neal, the first time this series where he created his own shot. The first quarter also featured a nice running hook over Anthony immediately after a quick move from the side of the court into the paint. In the second quarter a quick play turned into another spin-around jumper right in front of the rim as Howard got superior position over Jamaal Magloire. He had another solid post-up move against Magloire where he started his move to the side of the paint and used his pivot foot to get to the side of the basket where he used glass for a soft hook shot. Apart from a failed put-back dunk from an offensive rebound, almost all the shots that Howard missed were post-up plays that featured jumpers or hook shots more than 5 feet away from the basket. With the Heat already leading by more than 20 points in the third quarter, Howard’s last basket came with four and half minutes left in that quarter with a spin move right next to the basket on Magloire. Magic 96 – Heat 80 Orlando notched their first win of the series on February 28 but it wasn’t because of Howard. Hampered with 5 fouls, he only scored 7 points from 1-7 shooting and 5-8 free throws in 25 minutes. Just a few minutes into the game, O’Neal smothered Howard as the Magic center tried to spin his away towards the paint in front of the rim from the side. A minute later, Howard was blocked by Beasley after he tried the exact same move but was forced to double-pump the shot thanks to O’Neal’s superior positioning in front of the basket. With a few minutes left in the first quarter, Howard again starts from the side of the paint in the same spot as the first two shot attempts but this time he stays away from the inside of the paint with a short spin and hook shot over O’Neal which clangs off the rim. Amazingly, Howard’s first and last basket of the game comes one minute after the second half begins. Jameer Nelson finds Howard all alone inside the paint in transition. Once he gets the ball, O’Neal tries to get position between Howard and the basket but it’s too late and he gets the easy slam dunk. Howard then misses badly after he cuts across the paint once he receives the ball from the side. O’Neal stays in front of him and Howard is a bit out of control by the time he releases the hook shot. His final missed shot occurs with 7:20 left in the game where he misses a point blank attempt at the rim after backing down O’Neal into the paint with his back to the basket. He had just been called for his fifth foul on the last play for an offensive foul against O’Neal. Magic 108 – Heat 102 Howard again struggled and yet again it was due to foul trouble limiting him to 31 minutes with 5 of them. He only scored 10 points on 3-9 shooting to go with 11 rebounds. It started well for Howard with a nifty hook shot over O’Neal just a couple of minutes into the game after backing him down from the side of the paint and crossing over to the middle and releasing the shot in a smooth, controlled manner. Right after that O’Neal blocked him on a point blank shot attempt. After getting solid positioning inside the paint but didn’t get enough lift off his jumper after O’Neal recovered well. About two minutes later, Howard gets an easy dunk after setting up camp inside the paint right under the basket. Lewis was about to fire a three-point shot from the corner but wisely dumped it to Howard. With five minutes to go in the first quarter, there’s another dunk by Howard after an excellent last second bounce pass from Carter as he cut to the rim and drew in the Heat defenders guarding the basket. Halfway through the second quarter, Howard gets blocked by O’Neal on a quick turnaround hook shot a few feet away from the basket. Howard keeps his feet away from the paint to avoid a three-second call and quickly darts in right before the entry pass from the three-point line is made. A pump fake would have easily gotten rid of O’Neal as the rest of the Heat defenders have been drawn to the perimeter where the rest of the Magic players are camped. A few minutes later, the next shot attempt is the same move as his first basket but this time the running hook shot doesn’t go in. O’Neal blocks him in the next shot attempt after a bounce pass from Nelson after penetrating straight down the paint. Howard doesn’t attempt another shot until the fourth quarter. It’s the same move as the first attempt again with Howard again missing the running hook shot from the middle of the paint. With a minute to go and the game tied, Nelson dribbles straight down the paint and appears to lose the ball right as O’Neal gets in between him and the basket. Howard picks up the ball and tries to dunk it but gets blocked by O’Neal. Lessons learned: 1) Howard has only a few moves of his own that lead to good looks right by the basket. All of them start to the left of the basket. If he’s away from the paint, the other Heat defenders are better off sticking to their man instead of helping out and not giving any space to their deadly three-point shooters. 2) The only effective move by Howard was getting the ball outside of the paint to the left of the basket and either cutting towards the front of the basket for a hook shot or using a spin move to free himself for a short range jumper to the side of the rim. Sending a help defender to cut off this move towards the paint once he gets the ball would be wise. 3) If Howard camps out in front of the basket to get an entry pass, wrap your arms around him and don’t even let him think about trying to go for the And 1. You take your chances with his 59% free throw shooting than a thunderous dunk that will get the home crowd and his team pumped. 4) O’Neal really did do a good job defending him last season but there’s no reason to think Big Z and Magloire couldn’t replicate it. Howard doesn’t appear to have much in the way of pump fakes and nifty footwork to keep a defender guessing. It’s best to just try to smother his athleticism with brute force than to try do anything fancy on defense. 5) Joel Anthony isn’t really strong or big enough to keep Howard away from the paint. Worse case scenario is hoping that Chris Bosh's athleticism and length is enough to pester Howard enough until help comes if the other bigs are in foul trouble and/or Dexter Pittman is in street clothes. Or sign Erick Dampier.