OAKLAND, Calif. — Dwight Howard has admired Wilt Chamberlain for years.
The Orlando Magic superstar watches old film of Chamberlain’s game. Howard reads books about him. Howard even has spoken with some of Wilt the Stilt’s former teammates.
On Thursday night, Howard outdid his idol by breaking a record that stood for almost half a century.
Howard shattered Chamberlain’s mark for most free throws attempted in an NBA regular-season game. Howard made 21 of his 39 attempts and carried the Magic to a 117-109 win over the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena.
“I just tried to be aggressive and get to the line,” Howard said. “I didn't care if I missed 30. I was still going to go up there and just shoot the next one with confidence.”
With the Warriors purposely hacking, clutching and tugging at him, Howard scored 45 points, tying a career high, and collected 23 rebounds.
The Magic completed their West Coast road trip with a 3-0 record and, perhaps just as important, showed some grit and some resilience.
Playing on the second night of a back-to-back, Orlando looked lifeless early on and trailed by as many as 13 points midway through the second quarter. The Magic also overcame the loss of starting shooting guard Jason Richardson, who sprained his left knee early in the third period and did not return to the game.
“I think in this league it’s tough to win on the road, so certainly we can hang our hats on that,” Magic guard J.J. Redick said. “This league is a lot about momentum and confidence, so this gave us a little bit of momentum going into next week.”
The Warriors were without injured backup center Kwame Brown, and with Brown unavailable, coach Mark Jackson decided his team needed to foul Howard at every opportunity. A notoriously bad free-throw shooter, Howard entered the night having made 43 percent of his attempts from the line this season.
Jackson employed the Hack-a-Howard strategy, asking rookie Klay Thompson to foul Howard even before he crossed the midcourt stripe on Orlando offensive possessions. Ultimately, two Warriors players, Andris Biedrins and David Lee, fouled out. Thompson and Ekpe Udoh had five fouls apiece.
“The guy missed 18 free throws,” Jackson said afterward.
“I can understand people thinking, ‘Why?’ But don’t get caught up in the free throws. Think about when we didn’t foul him. Dunks, hooks at the rim — he’s a great player and a bad free-throw shooter.”
Lee said: “That’s a chance you take.”
It was almost comical.
One of Howard’s teammates likened it to a videogame.
Magic assistant coaches Ahmad Ajami, Bob Beyer, Steve Clifford, Patrick Ewing and Brendan Malone would recommend plays to Stan Van Gundy. But Van Gundy eventually turned to them and said something like, “What’s the point of calling a play? The Warriors are just going to foul Dwight anyway.”
The game lasted 2 hours, 39 minutes from start to finish.
“Once in a while, a game’s a little different,” Van Gundy told reporters afterward, laughing.
“My sophomore year in college, as a small-college player, for the season I shot 33 free throws. I don’t know, it was an interesting game. A long game. I’m sure a great national TV game for the NBA. I’m sure everybody there loved it. You get to turn on TNT and watch Dwight Howard shoot free throws.”
Van Gundy’s voice dripped with sarcasm, of course.
Just how weird was it?
Magic players started talking about that as the night wore on.
“It’s amazing that he made 21,” Redick joked.
What made the situation even stranger was that this was supposed to be the season Howard improved at the line and solved his shooting woes. During the lockout, he hired a personal shooting coach, and they have worked regularly at Rollins College in Winter Park to hone Howard’s mechanics.
Some within the Magic organization believe Howard is putting too much pressure on himself. For all his strengths, he doesn’t like criticism, and he’s heard plenty about his free-throw shooting.
But Howard improved as Thursday’s game entered its latter stages. He made eight of his 10 tries in the fourth quarter and helped the Magic outscore the Warriors 37-27 in the period.
Howard provided the crucial basket and foul shot with 1:21 left in regulation and the score tied 109-109.
He collected an offensive rebound off a missed 3-pointer by Hedo Turkoglu and made a layup as Lee fouled him. Howard made the ensuing foul shot to put his team up 112-109.
Monta Ellis missed a 3 on Golden State’s next possession, and Von Wafer provided the backbreaker with 36.9 seconds to play when he swished a trey from the right corner.
Orlando (8-3) has some momentum heading into its only back-to-back-to-back, which begins Monday against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. After a home game Tuesday against the Charlotte Bobcats and another home game Wednesday versus the San Antonio Spurs, the Magic will host the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.
Golden State (3-7) will begin a four-game road trip Saturday.
The Warriors were the first of three franchises that Chamberlain played for.
Chamberlain’s jersey number has been retired by the club, and a sign that reads “13 WILT CHAMBERLAIN” has been hung at midcourt between the second row of Oracle Arena’s luxury boxes and the upper deck.
On Feb. 22, 1962, Chamberlain attempted 34 foul shots for the Philadelphia Warriors against the St. Louis Hawks. The record wasn’t the most well-known of The Big Dipper’s accomplishments, but it had stood for almost five full decades.
“He played a long time ago,” Howard said, chuckling.
“I don’t think nobody’s going to catch the 100-points record. But he’s my favorite player. Every night, I just picture myself playing against those guys, because that’s what I want to be when I finish playing.”
On Thursday, Howard did something no one else has ever done.
Not even Chamberlain.
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