Magic-Timberwolves Preview

Dwight Howard has won the NBA rebounding title in each of the
past three seasons, and a fourth straight would put him in a class
with some of the league’s most historically dominant big men.

Thanks to Kevin Love, Howard has his work cut out for him.

Love has a significant edge over Howard as the NBA’s top two
rebounders go head-to-head Saturday night at the Target Center,
where Love’s Minnesota Timberwolves try to hand Howard’s Orlando
Magic a third straight loss.

Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, Dennis Rodman and Kevin Garnett
are the only players to have won four consecutive rebounding
titles, a feat Chamberlain pulled off twice. Howard seemed poised
to join that group after comfortably winning the crown the past
three seasons.

Love has put that pursuit in jeopardy as the season hits the
halfway point. His 15.7 rebounds per game are not only 2.3 more
than Howard, but the most since Rodman averaged 16.1 in 1996-97 and
more than anyone other than Rodman since Malone grabbed 17.6 per
contest in 1978-79.

Both Love and Howard also are having their best seasons
offensively. Love hit 5 of 6 3-pointers on his way to 35 points
Thursday against Washington, also pulling down 11 rebounds for his
26th straight double-double as Minnesota (10-30) won 109-97 without
the injured Michael Beasley.

“It’s a tough guard when you’ve got a 4 man who can shoot the
ball,” said the 6-foot-9 Love, shooting 45.4 percent from beyond
the arc. “Six-foot-eight or above and shooting the 3-ball like
that, its tough to guard.”

Howard did all he could offensively when Orlando (25-14) visited
Oklahoma City on Thursday, but it wasn’t enough for his team to
bounce back after its nine-game winning streak was snapped in New
Orleans one night earlier. Howard tied a season high with 39 points
and grabbed 18 rebounds, but the Magic’s fourth-quarter comeback
fell short in a 125-124 loss.

“(Wednesday), it was our offense was awful and tonight we
couldn’t stop them at all,” coach Stan Van Gundy said, referencing
Orlando’s 31.5 percent shooting outside of Howard in the 92-89
overtime loss to the Hornets.

Even though the Magic have won nine of 11, their penchant for
slow starts has Van Gundy concerned. Orlando has been behind after
the first quarter in eight of its last 10 contests.

“I don’t like that trend,” Van Gundy said. “Whether we have to
make changes in that lineup or something, but those guys – we’re
just always in a hole now and that’s not good.”

The Magic certainly didn’t have trouble getting off to a fast
start when they hosted Minnesota on Nov. 3. They shot 60.9 percent
and hit five 3-pointers while outscoring the Timberwolves 37-18 in
the opening 12 minutes en route to a 128-86 drubbing.

Orlando led by 33 at halftime in its fifth straight win versus
Minnesota since Love’s rookie season. Howard had 18 points, 16
rebounds and a season-high eight blocks while helping hold former
Magic center Darko Milicic scoreless.

Love had 22 points, nine boards, five turnovers and five fouls –
one of the five games he’s failed to record a double-double.

Beasley missed that game with a sore left hip, and the sprained
ankle he aggravated Tuesday against San Antonio could keep him out
again Saturday – and possibly even longer. Coach Kurt Rambis
expressed concern Thursday that his second-leading scorer’s ankle
might not be fully healthy again this season.

Orlando has averaged 111.0 points in winning four straight at