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