Howard wins consecutive defensive player awards
Dwight Howard turned to Orlando Magic general manager Otis Smith, somewhat unsure how to answer the question.
Already the youngest player ever with two NBA defensive player of the year awards, just how many could he eventually win?
Smith raised his hands, all 10 fingers dangling. Howard laughed, smiled and nodded his head.
``That's not enough?'' Smith asked. ``I don't have enough hands.''
At this rate, it might not be so far fetched.
The Magic's All-Star center won the award for the second straight year Tuesday after becoming the only player to lead the league in blocks and rebounds in the same season twice - let alone two years in a row.
Now 24, perhaps the next step for Howard is improving his offensive game enough to sway voters that he should win the Most Valuable Player award. Cleveland's LeBron James seems certain to take that honor again, and Howard said voters should factor in defense more.
``I think most people look at Most Valuable Player as somebody who scores a lot of points, which is great. I believe that defense wins championships, wins games,'' said Howard, who averaged 18.3 points per game. ``I've always thought about it like that, and I'll continue to think about it like that.''
That mentality helped him runaway with the defensive award again.
Howard received 576 total points, including 110 first-place votes from a panel of 122 writers and broadcasters. Atlanta's Josh Smith was second with 136 points, and Charlotte's Gerald Wallace finished third with 113 points.
Howard averaged 13.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game this season, powering the Magic (59-23) to the league's second-best record behind Cleveland. Only Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ben Wallace each led the NBA in those categories once in the same season.
``I think it speaks very highly of him, at 24, he's winning the award twice,'' Van Gundy said.
Howard has long preached defense first.
He has studied Bill Russell for years, reading books and newspaper articles on the player many consider the greatest defensive center in history. Howard is also good friends with defensive standout Dikembe Mutombo and assistant coach Patrick Ewing.
The former centers challenged him from the beginning to be a great defender above all else.
``Not all good players in this league, and not all great players in this league accept challenges, and that's probably the biggest growth that you see in him is that he accepts the challenge that's put in front of him,'' Smith said. ``The challenge that's put in front of him is being the best defensive player night in, and night out.''
So far, so good.
The man they call Superman swooped in to effect more shots than he blocked this season, changing games with his presence in the paint. Howard has been a matchup nightmare against almost every team, the main reason the Magic kept opposing shooters to an NBA-low 43.8 percent shooting.
The No. 1 overall draft pick out of high school in 2004, Howard has quickly become one of the most dominant centers. His chiseled, 6-foot-11, 275-pound physique makes him one of the most intimidating players, and his incredible vertical leap is even rarer for a big man.
Certainly not a player easy to get around.
``I was always trying to dunk on Dwight,'' teammate Vince Carter said of his time before he came to the Magic this season. ``If you ask him, he'll say, no, but it happened a few times. But whatever, we won't talk about that.
``You always have to know he's going to be there. He has great instinct. It's always on your mind. You know if you beat your man, you still have to get around Dwight.''
Howard led the Magic to the NBA finals last year, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. The Magic also have won three straight Southeast Division titles.
Orlando leads Charlotte 1-0 in the first round of the playoffs. Howard blocked nine shots in the opener, enough for Bobcats coach Larry Brown to call him the ``most valuable player'' of the game despite scoring just five points.
Game 2 is Wednesday night.
``Congratulations to him,'' Gerald Wallace said. ``I don't care about awards right now. I'm just trying to get a win.''
Howard is the seventh player to win the award in back-to-back seasons, joining Ben Wallace, Olajuwon, Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Dennis Rodman and Sidney Moncrief. Ben Wallace and Mutombo each won the award a league-record four times.
Howard might get there one day.
The gold NBA title trophy would be even more special.
``It means a lot, but there's just one trophy that we all want here,'' Howard said. ``Everybody in this city wants it, and it's on us. It starts with me blocking shots, rebounding and being a big defensive presence.''