Dwight Howard defensive POY again

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Dwight Howard had a message for the one voter who had the audacity to completely leave the Orlando Magic center off the ballot for NBA defensive player of the year.

"Thank you," Howard said Monday, when asked for his reaction to the slight. "I'll do better next year."

That mission will be difficult to accomplish for Howard, who on Monday became the first player in league history to win defensive player of the year for three consecutive seasons. Howard led the league in double doubles and also averaged 14.1 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and a career-high 1.3 steals this season.

Although Howard focused on making strides in his offensive game, his defensive dominance remained intact for the Magic, who were fourth in the league in both defensive field-goal percentage and points allowed. Orlando led the league in defensive rebounding.

Howard received 114 of a total of 120 first-place votes and accumulated 585 points.

Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett finished second with one first-place vote and 77 points while Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler was third with 20 second-place votes and 70 points.

Howard found a bit of humor in being left off the one ballot, and also took a playful jab at teammates for always allowing him to keep his defense sharp. Only Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo have won the defensive player of the year award four times. Howard also acknowledged several other great post players, including Hakeem Olajuwon and Magic assistant coach Patrick Ewing, for helping him develop his game on both ends over the years.

"Just to be in the same sentence with those guys, they've paved the way for me," said Howard, who at age 25 is in his seventh season. "It's my job to keep it going. I'm going to try to do the best I can on the defensive end to dominate and to change the game. It definitely is a honor to be considered one of the best defensive players to play the game, and I'm still young. So hopefully, I can keep it up."

Howard said there are still areas in his game where he needs to improve defensively. He mentioned cutting down his personal fouls -- "less silly fouls," he said -- and learning how to draw charges as the next phases of his defensive development.

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said there isn't much more room for Howard to grow defensively. He wasn't too bad on the other end of the court, either. Howard averaged a career-high 22.9 points and shot 59.6 percent from the field this season.

"He doesn't have a weakness," Van Gundy said. "In a league that has this much talent, to be able to do anything like that, that nobody else has done before -- that's incredible. The one thing that's probably under-appreciated about him is that he's the smartest big guy I've ever been around."

Otis Smith, Orlando's president of basketball operations, took the praise of Howard a step further.

"It's nice to be doing this for the third consecutive year for probably the most dominating basketball player in history right now," Smith said. "We're hoping [to] come back here with another trophy in a couple of weeks."

Smith was alluding to another major award for which Howard is in top contention: MVP. That trophy will be handed out in the next couple of weeks, with Howard, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose and Miami Heat forward LeBron James considered the front-runners. James was named league MVP the past two seasons, but Rose is the overwhelming favorite to win it this season in a poll of ESPN analysts and former players, many of whom have cast official NBA ballots.

Howard, who was flanked by the three trophies during Monday's news conference, picked up his latest defensive honor two days after the best offensive game of his career. He had a playoff career-high 46 points and 19 rebounds in Orlando's 103-93 loss to Atlanta in Game 1.

The Magic have spent the past two days making defensive adjustments after allowing the Hawks to shoot nearly 73 percent from the field over the decisive second and third quarters of Saturday's game. Howard insisted his team would have a better defensive effort in Game 2 on Tuesday.

As far as making room for additional awards hardware, Howard said he's got plenty of space.

"I have a lot of space in my two-bedroom house," Howard joked. "I think I've had a great year. If I do win MVP, it would be a great honor. It's something I've been working toward -- one of my individual goals I put above my bed every year. I want a Finals MVP. I think that's better than the regular award."

Michael Wallace covers the NBA for ESPN.com.