Howard is funny, but his game is no joke
Orlando star seems set to take team to the next level
By Antonio Gonzalez
ORLANDO, Fla. — Dwight Howard is having a ball being the NBA’s premier big man and the most recognizable face in a one-team town.
The Orlando Magic’s practical joker, he loves to poke fun at his teammates’ wardrobes, does some of the funniest impersonations around and has been known to knock on random hotel room doors during road trips and run away laughing.
His favorite practical joke?
Going with friends to a theater showing a horror film, donning scary masks while it’s playing and popping up to frighten moviegoers.
Lost amid his jokes — and the rim-rattling dunks and jaw-dropping leaping ability that make him one of the league’s dominant centers — is an often forgotten fact: He’s only 23 years old.
Even so Orlando fans would like to see him lead a deep run into the playoffs, perhaps even contend for a title. Howard hasn’t taken the Magic past the second round of the playoffs in his first four seasons in the league, and this year the pressure to take the next step will be greater than ever.
The Magic (59-23) finished one win shy of tying the best record in franchise history set in the 1995-96 season behind Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. With the prospect that the Boston Celtics may be without Kevin Garnett for the playoffs, many in Orlando feel it’s time that Howard takes the Magic to at least the Eastern Conference finals.
The 6-foot-11, 265-pound center knows any success or failure will be pinned on him.
"It’s not really pressure," Howard said. "It’s just knowing what I have to do to the best of my ability, and that everybody is always watching me."
The No. 1 overall draft pick out of high school in 2004, Howard won gold as the center of the U.S. men’s team at the Beijing Olympics and has the Magic entertaining title hopes going into Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against Philadelphia on Sunday.
Just don’t expect him to change his lighthearted ways.
Before games, he likes to attempt trick shots from beyond half court. He has a smile that never leaves his face, and he’s usually humming songs from artists like Beyonce or quoting lines from movies like "Finding Nemo."
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, the subject of an impersonation by Howard that has made the rounds on the Internet, doesn’t mind Howard’s antics so long as he knows when to stop.
"The big thing for Dwight is to understand there’s a time and a place," Van Gundy said. "Last year, he would still be fooling around. But he’s gotten a lot better with that."