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Lakers expect Dwight Howard to rebound

Orlando center had a bad Game 1, but he doesn't let it get him down. Kobe Bryant maintains serious approach.

June 06, 2009|MIKE BRESNAHAN

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard fielded a dozen similarly themed questions from reporters a day after his low-wattage start in the NBA Finals.

To paraphrase practically all of them: Where's the power, Howard? Why so slight, Dwight?

If Howard is the muscle of the Magic, there wasn't a lot of flexing in Game 1 on Thursday.

The Lakers often employed a patient, slow-moving double team in which they waited for Howard to begin his post move with a dribble before sending a player to help.

Sometimes it was Lamar Odom. Sometimes Trevor Ariza. Even Derek Fisher dropped down to help defend Howard once or twice.

In basketball parlance, it's called double-teaming "on the bounce." In the box score, Howard's stats were doubled over.

He made only one of six shots and failed to make another basket after a short hook shot 1:58 into the game. He finished with 12 points, well below his 21.7 playoff average coming into the game. In fact, he had 40 points in his last game before Thursday, the one that eliminated Cleveland and sent Orlando to the Finals.

The Lakers weren't celebrating at practice Friday, even after their 100-75 victory. Why would they after only one game in a best-of-seven series? But the Lakers noticed that Howard looked a little off-kilter.

"He definitely did," said center Andrew Bynum, who did a credible job of staying with Howard despite persistent foul trouble. "It's going to take everybody willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the team, coming over and not worrying so much about their man."

Said Ariza: "He did seem a little off-balance, but that's what we've got to do. We've got to keep them guessing. We don't want him to get into a rhythm. We don't want him to get it going."

Howard didn't dunk once. He missed two layup attempts and three short jump shots. He also did a poor job of passing the ball back out to Orlando's perimeter shooters, which he said he would change for Game 2 on Sunday.

The search for a cause to explain his off night even included a question about a blue-and-silver sleeve he wore on his left arm in Game 1.

"Man, I just wear the sleeve because I like how it looks," Howard said before shaking his head. "I started wearing it in practice, it felt good one day, and I thought, 'Man, I should wear this in the game.' It might make my shot look better."

It didn't help, not that Howard seemed negatively affected.

After Friday's media session, he grabbed a nearby microphone and cheerfully asked an ESPN reporter how it felt to be on the road so often while covering NBA games away from home.

Meanwhile, Howard's gregarious style couldn't be more in contrast with Kobe Bryant's demeanor.

A day after revealing that even his two daughters had started calling him "Grumpy" around the house, Bryant continued his stone-faced approach to the Finals.

If Howard answered questions in bright, full paragraphs, Bryant offered only a few phrases here and there, if that.

When asked if he remembered the Lakers' giddy approach to the Finals last season, he provided a one-word response: "No."

When asked if he wanted to win a championship to prove to LeBron James or Shaquille O'Neal that he was still atop his game, he replied, "Not at all."

When asked why he was playing with "such a defiance," he expanded his thoughts . . . but only briefly.

"I'm just focused and ready to go," he said. "In terms of how it impacts my teammates, they probably look at me and how I'm responding to the situation, how I'm preparing, and they follow suit."

The Lakers certainly weren't buying into chatter of a short series after their Game 1 domination.

The stats were wildly in their favor. They had 56 points in the paint, Orlando only 22. They had a 55-41 rebounding edge and outshot the Magic, 46.1% to 29.9%.

Still, they don't seem to be underestimating the Magic's potent sharpshooters, who were out of whack in Game 1 (four for 15 from three-point range for the starters).

And they also aren't underestimating Howard.

"He's definitely going to bounce back," Bynum said. "He's going to come out there and try and pin me underneath the basket. He's going to be running faster. I think they're going to make an effort to pump the basketball inside to him."

That's him?

Bynum is two years younger than Howard, but Howard has been keeping tabs on the Lakers' 21-year-old center, who had nine points and nine rebounds in Game 1.

"Watching Andrew since high school, he's come a long way, first with his weight," Howard said. "I first saw him in the [high school] all-star game. He was wider, but now he's slimmed down, gotten in better shape.

"His game has improved from the first time he's been in the NBA. At the beginning of the year, he was shooting fadeaways and I was like, 'Is that really Andrew?' I could tell he's been really working on his game."

Video daze

It was weird to see it right outside the Lakers' locker room, but Bryant was pictured on an enlarged cover for a new video game . . . wearing a New York Knicks jersey.

The oversized cover, which was being carried around by a publicist, was used in a commercial in which movie director Spike Lee pretended Bryant was playing for the Knicks.

"Just Spike being Spike," Bryant said Friday.

Bryant was asked if he had to approve the commercial because he was wearing a Knicks jersey.

"I have people that have people that have people that approve commercials," he said.

Say cheese

Was Howard ever posterized? Indeed, he was.

Bryant unleashed a picturesque dunk over Howard in 2004, Howard's rookie season. It became a topic of conversation Friday.

"He baptized me," Howard joked. "Every time he gets ready to drive down the lane, ever since then, I've had this flash of him dunking and hearing the crowd. I'll make sure that won't happen again."

Bryant downplayed the dunk, saying, "He just got there a second too late."


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