Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Early Wednesday morning, Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard(notes) was kind enough to talk to BDL about defense, defense, defense, his role in the latest season of the Replay series, Toni Kukoc, and defense.

Before we start, take in this clip of Dwight surprising and then coaching Chicago-area high school squad Brother Rice as they prepare for a game. If the kids in question seem a little doughy, understand that this was a team from 2000, reunited to play a grudge match against Bloom in Chicago, with the latter squad being coached by a guy named Dwyane Wade(notes).

A goodly portion of the full interview follows, after the jump.

Kelly Dwyer: I kind of want to get right to what bugs me the most - do you think those who are giving you the most criticism about your post game actually know how hard it is to be a post player in this league, in 2010? With the legal zone and, more or less, legal flopping?

Dwight Howard: I think those guys have never really played basketball. I find it entertaining, very funny, that those who have never played the game are telling people that they can't play it at a high level.

KD: Patrick Ewing's more or less been your mentor over the last few years, and he didn't really have to go through - in 1989, when he was dropping 20 a game or 25 a game, he didn't have to deal with guys hitting the floor every other time he turned in with a drop-step ...

DH: Yeah.

KD: Or guys running under the basket and diving every time someone, kind of, put up an elbow on their way into a jump hook. It's a totally different time to be a post player, and people don't seem to recognize that.

DH: This is not "back in the day." Everybody played one on one, then. Now, there are double teams, schemes to get the ball out of the big guy's hands, and it's a totally different game. I just let all the criticism, all the bad things said about me just roll off my shoulders. And just keep working.

KD: When you were growing up, and you figured out that you were good at this game and had a future at this game, at whatever level, were you watching post guys, or were you watching perimeter guys?

DH: I used to be a guard. I played guard up until I hit my big growth spurt. I played guard, really, up until my senior year of high school. I was the secondary guard on my team, and it wasn't even in me to play the post. I always looked at Magic Johnson, and I wanted to be the first 6-10 point guard, because he was 6-9. That was my guy, Magic Johnson.

KD: I think Toni Kukoc was the first 6-10 point guard, I think he beat you to that.

DH: Well ...

KD: I just gotta say it.

DH: (inaudible)

KD: So, Ewing was a 25 and 10 guy for a while, and he never won a championship, but he was close a few times. You guys made it to the Finals a year and a half ago, missed out during last season. Is there anything he's given you - beyond post play, beyond X's and O's - telling you how to recover and try to get back to where you were?

DH: I think one of the biggest things that Patrick is there for is the off the court stuff. On the court, you know, he wants you to get better. But Patrick's big job, mentoring me, is to help me with everything I need to do off the court,

KD: The people that read this site are really strong, into-it hoops junkies. Is there anything you can tell us about defense - especially in the modern era, where as you mentioned the zones and the planned double-teams and schemes and how everything is planned out - that we wouldn't understand from watching the game? That would go beyond, like, trying to hedge on a screen and roll or obvious help from the weak side?

DH: I think people see the end product, but they don't see what it takes to get there. Defense is about heart and will. There are a lot of things that come easy to guys on defense, but to be able to want it, and be consistent with it, that's what makes you the best. The things that I tried to keep on my mind that I wasn't good at, especially during my first couple of years in the league, were pick and rolls. And I studied all the guards, and what they like to do coming off screens.

That's the part that, I think, makes me a pretty good defensive player. I really read the guards. I know that when a guard comes off [a screen and roll] he's going to do one or two moves to get around the big. The guards that have gotten past me are the ones I haven't seen much before. But other than that, I just try to remember that defense will lead to offense. And that with point guards, watching the film, that really helps me out. I would say film, and lots of studying players that play those positions help me out. Lots of things in the pick and roll that you can master - it helps give your team a chance to win.

KD: It's pretty much the go-to move, at this point, for teams, right? The screen and roll? On some teams, it's about 80 percent of their plays.

DH: Yeah.

KD: Of all the guards out there ... like, when I was growing up it was Mark Price. That was the guy that was the biggest pain in the butt, but then he'd split the screen or nail the three-pointer or hit Brad Daugherty or Larry Nance with the pass. Of all the point men in this generation, who's the guy we should be looking at that's just impossible - to someone like you, who has to watch him for that two-second span while Jameer [Nelson] catches up - who is the guard that is just the biggest pain in the butt for you?

DH: It's weird because there's one guy that's just so jerky, and I tried to pick up on his game ... he was the backup point guard for Chris Paul(notes).

KD: Collison. Darren Collison(notes).

DH: Yeah. He's jerky. He's one guy that I never picked up on.

KD: He's in Indiana now, so you're going to have to see him maybe four times this year.

DH: He's in Indiana now? Boy.

KD: But he doesn't have Troy Murphy(notes) setting screens for him. He's got Roy Hibbert(notes), now. What about big men? Who are the toughest ones you have to deal with in a screen and roll setting?

DH: Ah, well, it's tough with the Bulls. Derrick Rose(notes) (KD note: I got the feeling Dwight understood the question, but just decided to go into talking about players that weren't his head-to-head rivals) is a quick guard that can jump. Different guys can get hot, I just try to prepare myself. When I watch film, when we go into shootaround (KD note: which often has as much tape preparation as it does actual shooting) I try to look at the first and second option. Try to take those away.

This league, there's so many teams, that it's a mental game. You've got to prepare yourself to be a great defensive player.

KD: With someone like Stan Van Gundy, for those of us that are watching on TV, we respect him in large part because of the cameras in the huddle. He gets straight to the point, he doesn't mess around. And I know you do a great Stan Van Gundy impression, but you also get the feeling that this is someone that you really, really respect. A guy that knows the game, and only wants to talk about the game; and isn't concerned with getting on TV or the Pat Riley thing where he's got to be on the cover of GQ.

I know you guys have fun with him, and I know he's only your second pro coach, but is there something different with him that you see from other pro coaches that we wouldn't know about?

DH: He's very passionate about the game itself, that's one thing, He's always working on different plays and schemes. Watching film, and doing different things, and you have to respect that. And he's very good with X's and O's. And with stats. Very good with stats. He said he played a long time ago ...

KD: Are there any stats that he brings up that you wouldn't see just looking at a box score, something that you really hadn't thought about? Something that other coaches or fans wouldn't know about?

DH: Yeah, there was a stat that - what was that? - like, if I get three blocks or more, we win 70 percent of our games. And in games where I don't have that many blocks, we lose. He was pretty accurate on that. Another thing was shots in the paint, it was really important to get those. He's real good with stats.

KD: You're sort of taking over his gig, now, with this Replay series. Anything you're taking from Stan to the sideline?

DH: Well, I want the best out of them. Guys that haven't played since high school, but they want to win. Want to go in and get the job done. I was very hard on them yesterday, you know, I pushed them. We worked on a couple plays. We're ready to go.

I love doing this. I'm very passionate about basketball, and whoever's playing it we should be playing it the right way.

KD: What about your counterpart on the other side, Dwyane Wade? What do you bring to the table that he's not going to be able to match?

DH: Actually, Dwyane and I have coached games against each other before. I won the first game, so I know he's going to be very amped about this game, so I'll do my best.

KD: What do you think about this season? You guys are more or less the same team you were last year, but you're still a pretty stacked team. You've got Miami coming in, and it's probably going to come down to you in May in June. What do you think the Magic has that the Heat do not, if it came down to a seven game series between you two?

DH: We have a chemistry. All the guys have been playing with each other for a while, and chemistry's big, especially in the playoffs. That's one thing that you have to have.

We're looking forward to every team we have to play, and we're not just gearing ourselves up for one team.

***

*In Season 3, Gatorade will reunite two South Side Chicago high school basketball powerhouses - Bloom and Brother Rice - whose 2000 super sectional game ended after a questionable last second tip in at the buzzer. 

*The original players will reunite for 8-weeks of training with the Gatorade Training Council and the Gatorade Sports Science Institute to get back in game shape for their rematch a decade later, to be played on September 10.

*To learn more about REPLAY and how you can train like a REPLAY athlete, check out REPLAYtheseries.com.  You can also nominate your rivalry for an upcoming season at Facebook.com/REPLAYtheseries.

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