Mar 13, 2012; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (12) during the fourth quarter at Amway Center. Orlando defeated Miami 104-98 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE
One player can't win a championship. At the same time, one player can make or break a team's title aspirations, and that is the case for Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.
BOSTON -- One player can't win a championship. You hear that phrase a lot in sports, and for the most part, it's true. Dan Marino couldn't do it alone. Ted Williams couldn't do it alone. LeBron James couldn't do it, either.
That being said, one player can make or break your hopes of winning a championship. Without Marino, the Dolphins wouldn't have had a prayer of competing for a title. The same goes for Teddy Ballgame and the Red Sox and King James and the Cavaliers. And the same certainly goes for Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.
Howard alone can't win a championship -- he tried to and failed in 2009, when his Magic reached the NBA Finals, but they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games -- but without Howard, Orlando's chances of winning the 2012 NBA championship decrease significantly.
Unfortunately, that is a situation the Magic may have to face. Howard has not played since April 7 with a back injury, and head coach Stan Van Gundy does not expect him to return for the team's final four regular season games and is preparing for the worst: a postseason without Howard.
"No, I'd be surprised. Very surprised," said Van Gundy, prior to Orlando's game against Boston on Wednesday, when asked if he expected Howard back before the playoffs. "What we're saying right now, our approach is that this is our team, not only in the regular season, but in the playoffs. If we get him back, obviously it would be a huge bonus, but we're not expecting that at this point."
Van Gundy didn't have a significant update on the condition of Howard, who has missed six straight games and eight of Orlando's 10 games in April, only saying that he is recovering.
"He's home in Orlando, rehabbing," Van Gundy said. "Physical therapy, stretching massage. Other than that, I'm not a physical therapist or a medical person, so I really don't know."
As one might expect, Howard's absence has taken its toll. Orlando has gone .500 in April and has fallen to sixth place in the Eastern Conference after Wednesday's 102-98 loss to the Celtics. Orlando shot 46.2 percent and out-rebounded Boston 43-29, but when missing a player of Howard's caliber, any defensive imperfections can come back to bite a team.
"It's not a trickle down effect," Van Gundy said. "It's the fact that you don't have him. It's not anything else. It requires everybody else. If we really look at it, I thought we made some mistakes early, but I don't think it's our guys are playing at a lower level defensively than they were before, it's just you've take our best defensive player out, and our biggest."
Glen "Big Baby" Davis has been inserted into the starting lineup in Howard's absence, and he hasn't disappointed. Davis is averaging a double-double in April, scoring 17.1 points and grabbing 10.3 boards on average in 31.5 minutes per game this month. Davis only played seven minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday and didn't play against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, but he returned Wednesday, finishing with 27 points and seven boards in 35 minutes.
"He was tremendous again," Van Gundy said about Davis. "Glen has been great. He's been outstanding. He was outstanding again today at both ends of he floor, I thought."
Davis is nearing the conclusion of his first season in Orlando after playing the first four years of his career in Boston. Big Baby has adjusted well to his role coming off the bench after being upset earlier in the season because he wasn't starting.
"He's actually played his best basketball of the year this month, even in the couple of games he played with Dwight in this month," said Van Gundy. "Especially with (Howard) out, he's played really well. He's gotten more opportunities, the middle sort of opened up for him. He's been our, even though he's not real big, been our physical presence inside. He's played with a great spirit and energy.
"I think a lot of it is an adjustment. He came in, it was tough for him. Our people, our writers have all alluded to it. He came in thinking, you know, I'm going to come in and start, and then he didn't. I think that threw him for a loop. He was sort of fighting things for a long time, and I think in the last month, he's just tried to play and help us win and do everything he possibly can to help us, and he's played extremely well."
Davis also attributes his success to a better understanding of his role and what he has to do.
"Just a rhythm and a flow and understanding what I have to do exactly," Davis said when asked what has been bringing out the best in him lately. "Stan knows what I need to do, and he makes sure that I'm put in situations to do it. It's been pretty good, you know, I'm helping the team on the offensive side, on the defensive side. Just getting into a rhythm and a flow."
Davis knows that, without Howard, things will be difficult in the postseason, meaning that these last few regular season games will be important for Orlando to gauge its play sans Howard.
"We need Dwight," said Davis. "(There's a) possibility (that) he doesn't play, we need to find out exactly what we need to do as a team to be successful, and that's what we're trying to do."