Untimely tech looms over Magic loss

NEW ORLEANS -- Technically, Monty Williams is in the Orlando Magic record books. And the Magic have some technical issues of their own.

The last time Orlando won nine straight games, Williams was playing small forward for them, way back in February of 2001. Now New Orleans’ head coach, Williams made sure he retained a place in Orlando history, as his Hornets snapped the current-day Magic’s nine-game winning streak in a 92-89 overtime thriller.

Unbelievably, the Magic, despite six 50-win seasons and a dozen playoff berths, have never had a double-digit win streak in their 22-season history. There are many reasons why they still won’t, but the one that will likely stick in their craw is the technical foul called on Dwight Howard with just 2:20 left in a four-point game.

The technical was Howard’s league-leading 12th of the season -- which doesn’t include the three that have been rescinded -- and like many of the techs handed out to Howard this year, it was a borderline call. After a missed shot ended with his arm tucked under Emeka Okafor’s, Howard began to run upcourt and swung his arm to shake free of Okafor. It was a relatively innocuous play, but he was slapped with a tech by referee Steve Javie … who was standing roughly 50 feet away at the time, while two officials much closer to the action declined to call anything.

“Steve said he swiped him across the belly,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Those guys had been tangled up all night. It was an interesting call, let’s just say that.”

“I didn’t say a word,” Howard said. “[Okafor] was holding me, and I thought you had a right to, if a guy is holding you, to get him off of you and not just let him hold you. I hope the NBA will look at it.

“He said I took a swing backwards. But anybody who has played basketball knows if a guy is holding you and you try to run, that’s the only way you can get him off. If I wouldn’t have done anything, he would have just kept holding me. If it happened again I would do the same thing.”

Chris Paul made the technical free throw, and that single point looms large in a game that eventually went to overtime. While we can’t say for sure Orlando would have won -- the Magic were shooting 3s to tie at the end of regulation and might have approached things differently, plus New Orleans’ last-minute execution was terrible -- we can certainly say it hurt.

The technical also puts Howard closer to a suspension, or perhaps multiple ones. Howard would face a one-game suspension if he accumulates 16 non-rescinded technicals, and a one-game ban for every second technical foul he tallies afterward. At his current pace, he’s going to miss either four or five games as a result of suspension.

And it raises the question, again, of whether he’s become a target.

“I’ll let y’all comment on that,” Howard said, and so we will. As the biggest player on the court, he’s always going to be easy to spot committing violations. But even in tangles with players his own size, it seems Howard can’t win.

If rescinded, it will be the fourth rescinded tech of the season for Howard … an amazing feat given we’ve played less than half the season. And if officials are calling that many incorrect techs on Howard, it begs the question of whether he really is being treated fairly.

Alternatively, one can argue Howard needs to manage his emotions better. While it’s true his actions have been interpreted differently than those of some other players – watch the Celtics or Lakers, for instance, and it sure seems they complain a lot more than Howard does – the fact remains that only one player in the league has been called for 15 technical fouls, not to mention two flagrant fouls.

Even if Orlando makes its case to the league and gets the tech rescinded, there’s another nagging issue. Rescission would help vis-à-vis a suspension, but this time, the damage has already been done. And while Howard blew a chance to redeem himself in overtime, missing two free throws with six seconds left that could have given his team the lead, he might have already been in the dressing room were it not for that untimely T.