Can't trust Dwight Howard in clutch

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Dwight Howard is a freak of nature, nearly 7 feet and 265 pounds of muscle, athleticism and agility.

He's the game's best center, a player who can make a 20-point, 20-rebound game seem routine.

Heck, he averages 20.9 points and 14.5 rebounds.

But during the fourth quarter Friday night of the Dallas Mavericks' 100-98 win over Orlando at the Amway Center, you saw exactly why it's hardly the end of the world if he never plays for the Mavericks.

We can speculate, of course, because the Mavs were reportedly one of the teams Howard would've considered joining if he had opted to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Instead, he recently signed a one-year extension, which essentially means the drama that followed him this season will continue at the start of next season unless he signs a long-term contract. If he doesn't, and the Magic don't trade him, Howard will be a free agent at the end of the 2013 season.

If the Mavs can sign just one big-money free agent, they're better off giving point guard Deron Williams, a free agent this summer, more cash than he can spend in a lifetime.

Howard will result in a lifetime of constant frustration because you'll see the abundance of physical gifts and wonder why it's never quite good enough to win a title.

We'll use the Mavs as Exhibit A.

Understand, Howard is a great player as is Williams. When comparing great players, we must nitpick to separate them.

For all Howard's multitude of strengths, you simply can't ignore his weaknesses.

He's a career 58.8 percent free throw shooter and seven seasons into his career, he remains a limited offensive player despite improved footwork.

Howard needs to add a go-to move like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's sky hook. Or Hakeem Olajuwon's dream shake. Or even Dirk Nowitzki's one-legged fadeaway, the shot he banked in over Hedo Turkoglu with five seconds left as the Mavs rallied from a 15-point, third-quarter deficit.

Howard's limited offensive game and poor free throw shooting make him a liability in the fourth quarter of close games.

Think about it: You can't throw it in to Howard in the low post and know he's going to take a quality shot. And if he gets fouled, which is going to happen the majority of the time, the odds of him swishing two free throws is up there with you winning the Mega Millions lottery.

Against the Mavericks, Howard had a double-double at halftime, and 17 points and 11 rebounds after three quarters.

In the fourth quarter, Howard scored one basket. He took just two shots and missed his only free throw.

See what I mean?

Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi deserve some credit.

Haywood, playing for the first time after missing seven games with a sprained knee, muscled Howard and forced him to work hard for position.

Mahinmi weighs only 230 pounds, so he used his lateral quickness to beat Howard to his favorite spots. Sometimes Mahinmi fronted Howard, which resulted in at least one key fourth-quarter turnover.

Mahinmi also made Howard work on defense by beating him down the court for a couple of baskets.

"We needed Haywood tonight," Carlisle said. "We needed some minutes from him and he gave us a physical presence. Anything you can do to wear down Dwight Howard a little bit is always a plus."

The Magic can blame their 12 second-half turnovers, or bad luck, since Ryan Anderson's uncontested layup fell off the rim instead of into the basket as time expired.

It doesn't matter.

The reality is Howard's last basket gave the Magic an 83-77 lead with 8:26 left.

The Magic took 13 shots the rest of the game -- Hedo Turkoglu six, Jameer Nelson four, Anderson two and Jason Richardson one -- and Howard didn't get one. Eight shots came from beyond 20 feet.


Howard finished the game with 19 points and 15 rebounds. He made 6 of 13 shots, but only 7 of 16 free throws.

All you need to know is Howard's teammates made no effort to get him the ball in the fourth quarter, and coach Stan Van Gundy didn't call a single play to ensure Howard touched the ball.

You can't give a dude who can't be trusted at winning time more than $100 million.