HANG TIME, Texas — It’s often been said that living well is the best revenge.
So there was Dwight Howard looking like a cross between a Kardashian and a member of the British royal family in rolling to 39 points and 16 rebounds during his boo-filled return to Orlando.
What’s more, he appeared loose, unagitated and as happy as Henry VIII at a smorgasbord when the Magic sent him to the line for an all-you-can-eat menu of 39 free throws, from which he 16 of 20 in the second half.
Which leaves us to wonder if it will now, finally, ever click to the mercurial big man that all he has to do is to shut up and play?
There is no reason for Magic coach Jacque Vaughn to apologize for the strategy, for Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni to complain or for NBA commissioner David Stern to again ponder a rule change.
Like so much else with Howard’s perpetually conflicted life and career, the problem has always been of his own creation. He is the one with the career .577 free-throw percentage and for all the talk about work in the weight room or getting one-on-one tutoring from Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, has been solidly consistent with his horrid stroke, rarely deviating far from the mean.
If you’re an opposing coach, why wouldn’t you exploit that hole in an All-Star’s game? It’s no different than giving a poor shooter open jumper after open jumper until he learns to knock it down.
If you’re Howard’s coach, why wouldn’t you practically salivate at the thought of your center getting 20 free throws in a half if he can step up and make 80 percent of them?
Howard could have stomped and fumed and moped and blamed his plight on someone else, the way he has with most events of the past two seasons. From former coach Stan Van Gundy to Magic management to Kobe Bryant’s prodding to D’Antoni’s offense to Pau Gasol to unrealistic fan expectations to the media, he’s been a self-made tempest in his own teapot. Just last week he disparaged his old Orlando teammates and then complained at everyone’s reaction to what he said.
It would have been straight in line with the persecuted image that Howard has constructed for himself to flap his arms, howl at the moon and hang his head each time the Magic committed another foul and sent him back to the line.
Instead Howard just shut up and played and enjoyed a night in the kind of career and life of which most people only dream.
He should try it more often.
Top 8 free throw attempts in a single game
Dwight Howard (Lakers): 39 FTA
Date: March 12, 2013
Dwight Howard (Magic): 39 FTA
Date: Jan. 12, 2012
Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers): 31 FTA
Date: Nov. 19, 1999
LeBron James (Cavs): 28 FTA
Date: March 12, 2006
Shaquille O’Neal (Heat): 28 FTA
Date: Jan. 14, 2005
Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers): 28 FTA
Date: Mar. 14, 2002
Karl Malone (Jazz): 28 FTA
Date: Jan. 8, 1996
Willie Burton (Sixers): 28 FTA
Date: Dec. 13, 1994