Monday, June 8, 2009

Express News: Dwight as David: Twins in blame

By Buck Harvey

Dwight Howard has David Robinson's biceps and shoulders. He also has his name.

On the birth certificate, he's Dwight David Howard.

Dwight is also known to talk about his faith. Dwight's father was a state trooper, and David's a military lifer. Dwight, too, has an Olympic gold medal and a defensive player of the year award.

Then there's their odd attraction to underwater animation. Dwight loves “Finding Nemo,” and David once said his favorite movie was “The Little Mermaid.”

But Dwight is never closer to David than he is right now, coming off a one-basket game, with the world wondering if his lack of chest thumping hints at his lack of resolve.

As it was with David, it doesn't.

These men are different, too. While both were No. 1 overall draft picks, Dwight entered the league as a teenager, having never played a minute of college basketball. David debuted as a 24-year-old, older than Dwight is now.

Dwight is also shorter than David, and he doesn't yet have the shooting stroke that David had. David's educational background separates them as well.

Still, as soon as Dwight stepped into the NBA, the comparisons were made. “To me,” Doc Rivers said of Dwight the rookie, “he walks like David, talks like David.”

He also runs and jumps the way David did. Dwight has the same outrageous package of height and quickness, with a shot-blocker's instincts. Dwight, too, runs the floor and controls the space he is in.

They also share the same flaws. Dwight is not known for his footwork and post-up moves; he's not Tim Duncan.

Against Cavaliers defenders who were either too stiff, too small or both, Dwight could score 40 points in the finale. Against a tandem of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, two 7-footers ready to foul when beaten, he finished without even one dunk.

That doesn't mean he can't respond tonight. But Orlando will need to be smarter, getting Dwight the ball as he flashes or before the Lakers set up their defense.

Still, that's not what people see. They see Dwight smiling too much, as if he doesn't care, and Sports Illustrated framed the perception this spring. Is Dwight nasty enough to win a title?

One anecdote came from the All-Star Weekend. Then, Dwight willingly stood as a prop as Nate Robinson jumped over him to win the dunk contest. Kobe Bryant, among others, said he never would have done the same.

Dwight smiled again and shrugged. Isn't this event mostly about fun?

So when Dwight scored one basket in 35 minutes Thursday, everything was repeated. Critics said he wandered aimlessly (while somehow getting 15 rebounds), and this exchange came from a national columnist:

“One basketball Hall of Famer in attendance said Howard played with absolutely no ‘grrrrrrrrrr!' whatsoever, and he's right.”

David heard the same. His image was that he would have preferred to play piano or build a computer.

The truth: If anything, David was too wound up. When Hakeem Olajuwon beat him in 1995, it wasn't because he lacked passion.

Dwight cried as a rookie when he lost. But now he hides that, singing songs at the free-throw line because that helps him concentrate.

In this era of camera close-ups, it's damning. While Kobe growls, Dwight doesn't exhibit the proper histrionics. He's expected to curse or preen, because, for many, that's the measure of toughness.

Dwight doesn't seem to mind hearing that he lacks “grrrrrrrrrr.” He keeps smiling, maybe because he already knows what really matters.

His twin, after all, is heading to the Hall of Fame this fall.

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