The featured attraction for the Orlando center: A collage of his elbows and shoves that have put him in permanent foul trouble in the Magic’s first-round playoff series against Charlotte.
“Everybody’s trying to tell me what I need to do, what I should do,” Howard said. “I think I just can’t allow myself to get frustrated. That’s the biggest part.”
The good news for the four-time All-Star is the Magic have been able to overcome his long stretches strapped to the bench, and Vince Carter’s(notes) shooting slump, to be on the verge of a sweep of the Bobcats ahead of Game 4 on Monday night.
No NBA team has blown a 3-0 series lead, and the Magic are a win away from the second round despite Howard playing just 82 of 144 minutes and Carter going 0 of 12 from 3-point range.
“We have a lot of weapons,” said Carter, shooting 33 percent from the field. “We have a lot of guys who can put the ball in the basket. It’s a blessing.”
Nelson is averaging 25.7 points and has just three turnovers in nearly 109 minutes. He had 32 points and no turnovers on Saturday, when Orlando closed on an 11-6 run after Howard fouled out in a 90-86 victory.
“I’m not out there trying to shoot every shot,” Nelson said. “It just happens that sometimes you have to, especially if you have it going.”
The finish on Saturday in the 6-year-old Bobcats’ first home playoff game had coach Larry Brown still steaming a day later. After the NBA’s premier shot blocker fouled out, four of Charlotte’s final six shots were 3-point attempts, including Stephen Jackson’s(notes) miss with Charlotte trailing 85-84 with under 30 seconds left.
“It hasn’t been the defense that has let us down,” Brown said. “Defensive rebounds have been a problem. Turnovers have been a problem. And I think more than anything is poor execution on offense.”
The Bobcats had their own painful film session Sunday. Brown said the Magic don’t respect Charlotte’s outside shooters other than Jackson and D.J. Augustin(notes). The Bobcats have been slow in reading help-side defense and ball movement has been poor.
“What we saw on offense is we’ve got to move the ball sooner with better spacing, but we’ve got to have better organization,” Brown said.
It’s been a difficult playoff debut for the Bobcats, whose offensive woes have overshadowed a solid defensive effort in a series where no team has reached 100 points.
The Bobcats have used a trio of centers in Theo Ratliff(notes), Tyson Chandler(notes) and Nazr Mohammed(notes). They haven’t contributed anything on offense, but have baited Howard into silly frustration fouls in the post.
“My teammates are saying, ‘Why you got to fight all the time?”’ Howard said. “I’m like, ‘Playing basketball, you don’t want nobody to think that you’re weak and soft out there.’ So sometimes you’re going to battle, especially when you’re going against older guys and you’re the youngest one out there.
“I just have to not get into a wrestling match and just play ball.”
Howard insisted after Saturday’s game that he doesn’t watch video of his fouls, but coach Stan Van Gundy stressed Sunday that was going to change. Howard’s film session Sunday came after an extended period alone on the floor working on his woeful free-throw shooting (11 of 28 in the series).
“They’ve got three (centers) and they don’t care if they foul,” Van Gundy said. “So if they’re down there and they’re going to wrestle, if half the calls go each way, Dwight’s the loser in that.
“Even if probably two-thirds of the calls go Dwight’s way, he’s the loser. He has to be a lot more careful.”
Van Gundy stressed the Magic want to close out the series here and not have to rely on returning home for Game 5 on Wednesday. With the way the Magic are playing—they’re the hottest team in the NBA with nine straight wins dating to the regular season—the Bobcats face the prospect of being the first team eliminated from this year’s playoffs.
“In hockey, teams have come from three down and won. In baseball, the Red Sox came from three down and won,” said Brown, digging deep for a motivational tool. “Hopefully, we can start with the first possession and try to play and make this series go a little bit longer. That’s my message to them.”