Walk into the master bedroom of Dwight Howard's Orlando home and you'll see two sheets of paper tacked to the wall above the bed. The deeply religious power forward has posted lists of his goals for each season since he played in high school--which, incidentally, was just a year and a half ago. "The Bible says to have your vision and make your plan so the whole world can see it," Howard says. "My NBA career is part of my vision now, and I want everyone who comes into my life to see [my goals for] it."
The Magic's objective is simple: Ride its 19-year-old prodigy to the playoffs. Orlando hasn't made it past the first round since Shaquille O'Neal left, in 1996, but a more muscular Howard could get them there. "I couldn't bench 185 [last year]," he says. "Now I'm maxing out at 285."
That extra bulk plays into new coach Brian Hill's plans to bolster Orlando's 28th-ranked scoring defense. In training camp Hill has pushed the 6'11", 240-pound Howard to complement his solid shot blocking and rebounding (32 double doubles) with more physical low-post and help defense.
Improving his 67.1% shooting at the foul line is one of Howard's individual goals ("I don't leave the gym until I hit seven free throws in a row," he says), in addition to making the All-Star team and playing in all 82 games--hard. He vows to never again follow a 19-point, 19-rebound effort like he had last March with a pair of clunkers in which he totaled six points and 13 boards.
One shortfall from last season still gnaws at him. "I came close, but I didn't get Rookie of the Year," Howard says. (He finished third.) He's determined his expectations won't go unmet this season.
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Magic
"A lot of people believe they'll have to trade Steve Francis because he won't accept being Number 2 guy to Dwight Howard, but I've never viewed Francis as selfish. He's a competitor, and if he's convinced Howard can help them win, he'll buy into his role. They realize that Francis's future is at shooting guard--it's hard to keep him out of the paint, he can make three-pointers in bunches and he's an excellent offensive rebounder. As a point guard he lets his emotions undermine his ability to run the team.... But I question their decision to sign Keyon Dooling to take over the point. Dooling is only slightly better than Francis at taking care of the ball, and he's more of a driver and shooter than a passer who creates plays for others. But at least his presence will give Orlando 25 minutes when Francis will be able to shift to the two.... Grant Hill wasn't as explosive and didn't get to the rim with the old authority, but his skills didn't diminish in terms of making plays for his teammates without diminishing his own game. He's still one of the better multidimensional players in the league.... The trade of Cuttino Mobley made Hedo Turkoglu irreplaceable. Their only other shooter is Pat Garrity, and when he or Turkoglu isn't in the game, the defenses compact and focus on stopping the penetration of Francis and Hill."
Steve Francis ranked seventh in assists per game last season (7.0) to become the first Magic player to finish in the top 10 since Scott Skiles was third in '92-93.
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004-05 statistics
Record: 36-46 (10th in East)
Points scored: 99.5 (9th in NBA)
Points allowed: 101.8 (28th)
Coach: Brian Hill
(first season with the Magic)
BENCH 2004-05 STATS