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News » Some elbow room for Sixers, with Magic's Howard out due to suspension

Some elbow room for Sixers, with Magic's Howard out due to suspension

Some elbow room for Sixers, with Magic's Howard out due to suspension
ORLANDO Magic center Dwight Howard threw an elbow and knocked himself out.

Stu Jackson, the NBA's executive vice president of Basketball operations and de facto hanging judge, announced yesterday that the 6-11 Howard, who has more or less had his way with the 76ers during the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series, would be suspended without pay for Game 6 tonight at the Wachovia Center.

Not that Howard's temporary absence guarantees that the underdog Sixers - down three games to two in the best-of-seven series - will advance to a decisive Game 7 Saturday night on the Magic's Amway Arena homecourt. But make no mistake: One very large, very imposing obstacle has been removed from their hoped-for return trip to central Florida.

"He's the defensive player of the year," Sixers forward Andre Iguodala said of Howard. "[The Magic are] a different team without him."

Added Sixers forward Thaddeus Young: "He's a beast inside. He blocks a lot of shots, gets a lot of easy dunks. If he's not there, that's good for us."

Howard, who has shot an absurd 68.3 percent (41-for-60) from the field while averaging 24 points, 15.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in the five games played to date, was set down by Jackson for elbowing Sixers center Samuel Dalembert in the head with 9 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the first quarter of Game 5 Tuesday night in Orlando, which the Magic won, 91-78.

Upon being informed of his suspension, Howard - an affable sort who is one of the league's better-liked premier players - accepted the ruling with equanimity.

"I'm very disappointed, but I have to respect the NBA's decision," he said in a statement released by the Magic. "I didn't intend to hurt anyone. I have complete faith in my teammates that they will come out and get the job done [tonight]."

What's curious is that Howard's attempt to clock Dalembert - possibly, but not likely, a delayed retaliation for Dalembert having inadvertently scratched Howard's eyes in Game 1 - made only grazing contact. Howard scored a more direct hit on his own teammate, Orlando guard Courtney Lee, who missed the remainder of Game 5 and isn't likely to play tonight.

Lee suffered a fractured sinus after taking an inadvertent elbow to the head from Howard. His status for the remainder of the playoffs is uncertain.

Although Howard was assessed a technical foul on the play, he was not cited for a flagrant foul or ejected from the game. The 5-year veteran, who jumped directly from Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy to the NBA in 2004, finished with 24 points and 24 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive end. In the process, he went over, around and through the Sixers' big-man tag team of Dalembert, Theo Ratliff and Reggie Evans.

Normally stoical Sixers coach Tony DiLeo and general manager Ed Stefanski were adamant that the league review the play in question. DiLeo also complained that Howard received a superstar's customary perks from officials by being allowed to loiter in the lane longer than the legal 3 seconds.

"It's tough to defend him and tough to get to the hole when he's in the 3-second lane all night," DiLeo said at the time. "He's a great player. He doesn't need any advantage."

DiLeo's alleged "lobbying" for relief against Howard provoked a cynical response from Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy, who is anything but stoical. A clearly irritated Van Gundy said: "Am I supposed to talk about the game or am I supposed to lobby for the calls I want the next time? Come on. Just play the games."

Stefanski, however, said that there is no ambiguity concerning the intentional throwing of punches or elbows, regardless of whether the offender is an All-Star or an end-of-the-bench type.

"The rule states clearly if there's an elbow thrown to the head and there's contact, then the player should be ejected," Stefanski said. "The officials said that they didn't see contact and that's why they gave [Howard] a technical foul instead of an ejection."

Jackson had the benefit of tape to review, however, and there are numerous precedents to suggest that the NBA will always penalize conduct infractions. In Game 4 of a Western Conference playoff series between Phoenix and San Antonio in 2007, Jackson suspended Spurs reserve forward Robert Horry for two games for a flagrant foul against Suns guard Steve Nash. Phoenix' best inside player, Amare Stoudemire, and forward Boris Diaw each drew a one-game suspension for leaving the bench during the ensuing fracas.

The Suns, who lost the series to the eventual NBA champion Spurs, argued unsuccessfully that the unavailability of Diaw and, especially, Stoudemire for one game was in effect a more severe sanction than the two-game suspension handed bench player Horry.

Iguodala said if something is in the books, it should be enforced without regard to a player's status: "That's the purpose of rules."

There are those who hold that the NBA has a double standard concerning double standards, and that the hard-and-fast line adhered to by the league concerning conduct violations is in contrast to the more lax interpretations adopted by many officiating crews regarding other matters. In Game 5, Sixers guard Lou Williams was called for palming the ball on a drive to the basket. The next time, say, LeBron James or Kobe Bryant is whistled for a similar maneuver might be their first.

Dalembert figures he would have been ejected on the spot had he elbowed Howard instead of the other way around.

"I know things kind of heated up out there," Dalembert said. "Everybody's playing hard, tough. It's been a physical series for everybody."

Still, Dalembert allowed, How-ard's swinging elbow "was uncalled for . . . I don't think there's any doubt [it was intentional]. I would never throw a punch like that."

Six shotsNo Dwight Howard in the Orlando lineup means trading down to Marcin Gortat or Tony Battie at the center spot. Tony DiLeo , though, said Orlando has "other players who will try to pick up the slack. Rashard [ Lewis ] and [ Hedo ] Turkoglu are All-Star-quality players. Rafer [ Alston ] is having a good series. Even Gortat came in and did a good job" . . . The Comcast SportsNet telecast of Game 5 drew a 2.6 rating (77,000 households in the Philadelphia area), and peaked at 4.1 (122,000). *

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 30, 2009


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