Dwight Howard’s comments after Orlando rallied to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night puzzled many around the league.
“I do want the ball more in the fourth quarter,” Howard told Fox Sports Wisconsin. “I want to become a closer. The only way you get there is by getting the ball and have coach have the confidence in giving me the ball.
Howard’s comments made him sound frustrated with the way his team has executed down the stretch, but after Monday night’s victory of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Howard said that wasn’t the case at all.
“I was never frustrated about not getting the ball or frustrated in us not winning a game.” Howard said.
Instead, Howard attributed his frustration to his sub-par performance in Saturday’s game. Howard finished with just 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting, arguably his worst offensive performance of the season.
“I was frustrated with myself because I missed a lot of easy shots,” Howard explained. “I’m never frustrated when we win, that’s kind of pointless. I’m just frustrated with myself because those are shots I know I can make and I missed them.”
Howard went on to say he was happy with the Magic’s last few wins and that he was excited about Jason Richardson’s 31-point night that carried the Magic to victory Saturday.
However, Howard did admit he wants to be the “closer” for the Magic.
“There’s going to be nights where any guy on this team is going to have a big night,” Howard told reporters.” I just want to be that guy that everybody has total confidence in giving me the ball late in the game to make a play.”
Howard thought his comments may be coming off as arrogant but he stressed that isn’t the case at all.
“That’s not me being cocky or saying me-me-me,” Howard said. “I do want to lead this team and I want to carry them. I want to be that guy. Look at the Lakers, Kobe’s that guy. Carmelo is that guy for the Knicks. Jordan was that guy for the Bulls.”
Howard said there is difference between being cocky and being confident, explaining that you have to have confidence to become a great player.
“I want to be great,” Howard said. “Great players want to take that load, they want to put the team on their back. That’s what I want to do for this team.”
Howard then brought up two of sports’ most famous words – killer instinct, something often used to describe two of the players Howard strives to be like – Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan and saying some in the media use to detract from players like Howard and the oft-criticized LeBron James.
“That’s the killer instinct. I want to have that same mentality for this team,” Howard explained.
When asked if he was ready to carry the fourth quarter load right now, Howard used a couple of examples, including learning to swim and learning to ride a bike, to describe the process of becoming that go-to-guy late in games. He also admitted he has to learn to become a great late-game player.
“I have to learn,” Howard said. “I’m going to go through those games where I miss a lot of shots. Kobe went through it, Jordan went through it but after doing it so much, they got confident in themselves. I want to have that and I want my teammates to have that.”
“If you want to be great, you have to go through situations that bring greatness to you,” Howard added.
It appears as though Howard doesn’t believe he is far into the process of learning how to be that closer, saying he was going to be “patient” and telling reporters the only way to get there is “by going through fire.”
“I’m the captain, I’m the leader of the team and I want everyone to have total confidence in me,” Howard told reporters Monday night.
“I want to carry this team to a championship. I want them to ride on my back.”
(Andrew Melnick is the ESPNFlorida.com Magic and NBA Insider, co-host of the ESPN 1080 Insiders Show and publisher of Howard the Dunk. The Insiders Show can be heard Sunday mornings at 10:00 am EST on AM 1080 in Orlando and on ESPNFlorida.com. You can follow Andrew on twitter here.)