In Game 1 against the Atlanta Hawks, Dwight Howard ripped off 46 points and 19 rebounds in a stirring, star-crossed performance. Star-crossed, but only because the Orlando Magic lost. Howard had almost half of Orlando's points, almost half of its rebounds, almost three-quarters of its free throws and, well, almost half of its turnovers. Dwight Howard was the Orlando Magic, and that was the problem. Because while Dwight Howard is the best player in this series and possibly the most impactful player in the entire NBA, he is not enough. Not in the NBA Playoffs against a team looking for game than most predicted.
Howard has been the Orlando Magic's defense just about all year, and that's been good enough: Orlando finished No. 6 in defense in the regular season, despite four starters considered average at best on that side of the floor. Howard corrects a lot of mistakes; when he received his third consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award this week, he could have been only half-joking when he thanked his teammates for funneling so many dribblers his way.
It wasn't enough on Saturday, though; Atlanta shot 51 percent from the floor on a menu of mid-range jumpers by Joe Johnson and deep balls by Jamal Crawford. Howard can't exactly stop those, and you can expect the Hawks to cool off substantially. But Jason Richardson simply must contribute more defensively if he isn't able to put points on the board. Johnson just shredded Richardson, and while the Magic can survive a seven-game series while losing that matchup thanks to the greatness of Howard, Orlando can't lose that matchup by 21 points, like it did on Saturday.
Atlanta has a concern, too; you can't expect the Magic to change course from Dwight Domination until the Hawks can prove that someone on the roster -- Jason Collins, Zaza Pachulia, Al Horford, Etan Thomas ... someone -- can at least slow him down in the playoffs. If Howard goes bonkers again and Atlanta cools off? This series is going to look mighty different mighty quickly.