Dwight Howard is going to need some help on offense, if Orlando is to win a title.
For one game, at least, Dwight Howard made the leap offensively Magic fans have been waiting for him to do. He matched his defense with a strong offensive performance against Miami scoring 19 points (all in the first half) showing off a deft touch with his jumper and more patience and nuance in his post game. Friday's game followed a strong offensive showing against Washington's decidedly weaker front line Thursday night. We will see if Howard can keep up this offensive momentum.
And it appears he will have to if Orlando wants to keep up with the better teams in the league.
What Miami did expose (among many many many other things) in Friday's game is that if Howard is not on the floor and scoring -- or at least drawing the defense's attention -- Orlando's offense will be bogged down. Even Stan Van Gundy is admitting the Magic lack the one-on-one scorer that can create offense from nothing and bail out a poor offensive possession.
One thing is pretty clear: Dwight Howard needs help.
At this point it does not matter where it comes from. Whether it is Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis or Jameer Nelson taking more of a central role in the offense (whether they are capable of doing so is another question entirely) or Otis Smith making a move to bring in another scorer (Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul or Andre Iguodala seem to be the leading candidates at the moment), Howard needs a running mate to help him out.
That is what Ken Berger of CBS Sports argued. And Van Gundy mentioned his team's inability to create one-on-one opportunities from the perimeter and poor ball movement were major causes for concern in Friday's game.
Everyone in the Magic recognized this weakness entering the season. The big question surrounding the team was whether Vince Carter could shake off a dismal Eastern Conference Finals performance and become the go-to scorer Orlando envision when the team brought him in. He statistically had his worst season of his career last year as he tried to figure out how to be more of a role player rather than a ball-dominating superstar. Really he became a replacement of Hedo Turkoglu statistically -- good scoring numbers, low efficiency -- and that was not enough.
So who is going to step up and give Howard that help?
Dwight is taking more of a leadership role on the team and taking ownership as the team's lone star. He wants to take responsibility for the success or failure of this team. It was painfully obvious Friday night that this team will go as far as Howard can take them, and even that might not be enough.
The trouble is we will not know if Carter, Nelson or Lewis are ready to step up and fill in that secondary scorer role or are even able to create offense on their own until Orlando faces off against Miami on Nov. 24 and then again once Boston comes to town on Christmas Day. The Magic are good enough to easily defeat a lot of teams based solely on Howard and balanced scoring. Against the good teams, that is an issue.
Van Gundy said yesterday players have to start playing roles on the team rather than being just scorers. Van Gundy wanted his team to focus on the details of setting better picks and cutting harder and moving without the ball (the role filled by Matt Barnes last year curiously). We will see if they get the message.
Unless Orlando finds that second, perimeter scorer, it may just have to rely on the formula that won Detroit a championship in 2004 -- defense. But even they had guys who could create offense in Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton.
So either someone needs to step up or Otis Smith needs to find a way to bring in a one-on-one scorer for Orlando to be successful this year and have any shot at winning a title. That may be the biggest underlying issue to come out of Friday's loss. And the biggest question Orlando will have to solve.