|Magic's Howard dedicated, motivated to win in 2010|
|Updated 10/16/2009 12:57 AM ET|
After Boston Celtics center Kendrick Perkins pushed him around in Orlando's seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal victory last season, Howard knew he needed to develop leverage and find another offensive move. The key: finding the time.
The first-team All-NBA center filmed parts in two movies; shot a commercial for TNT; traveled to China to promote international basketball and went to Africa as part of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program. But his personal trainer accompanied him everywhere.GALLERY: Dwight Howard's career in photos
"Sometimes late at night was the only time I could get in the gym," Howard says. "But if you want to win a championship, you do what you gotta do."
Trainer Bryan Meyer would have preferred less traveling for Howard: "But I understand he wants a life outside of basketball. That's why he brought (me) along … and we had time to accomplish what I wanted."
Whenever they could, be it 5:30 a.m. in Africa or, after a long day in Los Angeles, at 1 a.m..
"There were times I was icing his knees in the dressing room (or) making sure he stayed hydrated," Meyer says. "He would have so much on his mind, he wouldn't think about that."
Howard often thought of that Celtics series. "Boston knew how to get under my skin, and not too many teams did last year," he says. "Kendrick was the main reason. He's a big load, and I got frustrated."
Perkins' secret: lean his 285 pounds on the 6-11, 265-pound Howard to keep him outside.
"Dunking gets Dwight motivated," Perkins says. "So you have to keep him from the rim. He'll hit a jump hook on you, but I don't think he gets motivated off that. Once he starts dunking, it's pretty much over. He starts blocking shots and then he's unstoppable."
To counter Perkins, Howard focused on improving his lower body strength and being able to absorb more force. "Having big biceps looks good," Howard says. "But they don't help you stand your ground."
Meyer had a week-by-week plan for Howard, where everything had a purpose and prepared him for the next series of exercises. "All the travel made it tough," Meyer says. "But it also made it fun for me because I had to really prioritize what exercise I was doing with him and why. Sometimes, in those 1 a.m. workouts, I was really tired, but Dwight was always ready to go."
Howard, a 56.8% career shooter from the field, also knew he needed to improve his 15-foot jumper to help free up his inside game. Shooting coach Corey McCray worked with him all summer, just as Magic assistant coach Patrick Ewing had done during the season.
"He just needs to keep on believing in his jumper," Ewing says. "If he has enough repetitions, he'll gain confidence in it. … Him adding a jump shot to his game is just another avenue for him to take in his development."
The problem? Howard hates to miss. It wrecks his field goal percentage. "Every shot I take in practice, I think, 'God, just give me the confidence to shoot this in a game.' That's the one thing I have to overcome. I'm confident dunking the ball and doing hook shots. But I hate missing. If I miss one or two jump shots, I can't say to myself, 'Oh, no, I can't miss!'
"Patrick Ewing and I talk every day. He says, 'Look, you're going to miss shots. But if you shoot them the same way, they're going to fall sooner or later. So just keep shooting."
Howard realizes it takes time. "That's what I tell people. I'm still a puppy, a boy playing with men. Michael Jordan and Karl Malone weren't great jump shooters when they came into the league. But by the end of their careers they were deadly."
Howard wants to make at least three jumpers a game, night, because he believes that opens up his inside power moves.
"I don't know if those kind of goals are productive," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy says. "Dwight should always be trying first to get to the rim. His jumper can be a very fine counter for him. But I don't think looking for the jumper is the way for him to start. Turn-around jumpers in the post as the defense takes away the middle? Yeah, I'm comfortable with that.
"The thing I've noticed more than anything, he's been more patient. He's spent a lot of time on his shooting. He hasn't shot free throws well, still. But he has shot his turnaround jumper better and he's playing with a lot more patience."
Other than making more jumpers, Howard says his goals for this season are simple. He wants the Magic to win the NBA title. He wants to be named the NBA's top defensive player for a second season in a row. And he wants to shoot 75% from the free throw line.
General manager Otis Smith would be happy if Howard simply improves the latter (59.4 last season, just about his career average).
"That's the only thing he needs to concentrate on," Smith says. "He leads the league in (free throw attempts) because he doesn't shoot a high percentage. Teams are going to foul him."
One of the highlights of Howard's summer came on a night-time African safari, where he saw a leopard kill an antelope. "We were riding in a Jeep, and our guide had a shotgun," he says. "They told us that seeing any kind of kill in nature is rare.
"It was a sight to see. Those leopards are so strong. It killed the antelope in three seconds. He chased him down and, pop! He caught him. The antelope was down. Then he took the antelope up in a tree. Some hyenas came back later and tried to steal it from him. It's something to see, how the animals survive on a daily basis."
For the doubters, Howard's manager and cousin, Kevin Samples, has the photos on his Blackberry.
In Valentine's Day— which also features Jamie Foxx, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, Bradley Cooper, Patrick Dempsey, Topher Grace, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Shirley MacLaine, George Lopez, Taylor Swift and Julia Roberts— Howard says he's dressed up as Superman. He called the experience "just like doing a TV commercial, only longer. I didn't mind. I'm patient. I had a lot of fun. That's something I always wanted to do, be in movies and acting and getting a chance to show my personality."
With the loss of three starters from their Finals lineup and the addition of forward Vince Carter, the Magic will have to recreate chemistry. Howard says losing the Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games motivates him.
"Seeing the Lakers celebrate on our court, that hurt," he says. "I thought about it every time I took a shot this summer."
|Posted 10/15/2009 8:58 PM ET|
|Updated 10/16/2009 12:57 AM ET|