1. I've been down this road before, but Dwight Howard is pretty fascinating. His physical ability is obviously about 1-in-a-billion, maybe 1-in-5-billion. But can someone so goofy really reach his potential? That's a tough call. Instinct says no. Everything most of us have ever been taught and certainly what gets taught most is that to really get as could as you can be at something, you need to be pretty serious about it. I mean, to be truly great at something you have to love it; but that only means that you obsessed without being miserable, right?
But the ideal is still excellence through obsession. More hard work, more focus, more making a game a job. We want people who are gifted to take seriously their gifts and we celebrate those who aren't quite as obviously gifted who maximize their potential by doing just that. There's little doubt that's a big part of Steve Nash's appeal. I mean, he's definitely a rare, rare, talent, but he honed every aspect of his game to best realize those abilities.
Is Dwight Howard doing that? Not sure. I watched him during warm-ups and he was working out with Pat Ewing, if you can call it that. It was more like loosey-goosey, NBA version of Tai Chi. Howard would get the ball and go through a move at about one-quarter speed. Ewing was trying to all serious and knocking the ball away from him and stuff, but Howard just would not wipe the smile off his face and eventually Ewing was having a great time. At one point the ball rolled over to the bench, someone pitched it back to Howard and Howard bounced it over to a female usher who was in her 50s and about five feet tall. Then Howard demanded an entry pass from her while posting up Ewing. She tossed it in and Ewing, of course, made the steal. It was silly but fun.
Meanwhile Tony Battie is working on the other half of the floor with Brendan Malone and looks like he's doing his taxes. He's a vet; he's had injuries; he's trying to squeeze out a couple of more seasons. He's all business. And that's just the start. Later Howard does a killer Stan Van Gundy impression on Raptors TV. It was really funny. He goofs around with Moon and with Bosh. He has a grand old time. And then he just kills the Raptors and leads his 36-10 team one more time. Would he be better if he was grumpy? If he scowled? If doubted himself all the time and was driven by inner demons? We'll probably never know. But he's pretty damn good.
2. Jay Triano was a pretty level-headed guy as an assistant, but you get the sense he's slowly going crazy as a head coach. Not literally, of course. He's handled himself pretty well. But the upbeat, calm, positive manner he determinedly showed in December is fading. He's angry more. He's more frustrated with the refs. He's more frustrated with his guys. You could see it when he swore loudly to himself over a missed assignment or when he called a timeout after Courtney Lee drove the length of the floor and dunked without a Raptor ever looking in the first quarter.
He's undoubtedly doing everything he possibly can think of to alter the trajectory of the team he's coaching, but he can't really do it. I think that's what makes coaches crazy. They're the anti-Dwight Howards. They're trying to make all these things happen but can't really do much to make it so. Howard? He knows that as long as he puts his mind to it he can move basketball mountains. Why get all upset when you know that? Just trust your talent and have fun. It's probably the same for coaches. I think that's what D'Antoni tries to do: Don't micro-manage; don't lose the game in the details. Create an environment where players simply play with confidence and watch those threes rain. I'm not saying D'Antoni doesn't sweat bullets, but from a distance he doesn't seem like he's invested in bullet-sweating. Afterall, does all that agonizing really help? I think Jay would like not to agonize, but it's hard not to.
3. At one point Will Solomon jacked up an a three early in the shot clock and came up with nothing but air. It was a stupid shot and Solomon immediately looked to the bench and acknowledged it. Jay just said "keep moving the ball.'' About two minutes later he does the same thing but the shot goes. Early in the clock, a partially contested three that happens to go in. He doesn't look that time. The shot went in right? All is good. The guy clearly doesn't get that shots like that are what have caused him to lose minutes to Roko Ukic and AP this season.
4. Given that Mickael Pietrus was on the short list of players the Raptors were considering two summer ago when they used $24-million to sign Jason Kapono, it was hard not to take note when Pietrus went to dunk the ball and nearly took Kapono with him at one point. He's like a longer, quicker Joey Graham, presumably with a bit more focus, but who knows. The Magic are certainly high on him and got him for less than $24-million. He'll be a starter on a team that is taking serious aim at the NBA Finals in part because he's their biggest and most athletic and physical perimeter player. He was signed specifically to give Orlando someone to throw at Wade and Pierce and LeBron. Kapono is a bit player with some serious athletic short-comings on a team that is 11 games under .500. I'm not privy to all the details - maybe he wanted more money, maybe he didn't want to come to Toronto, whatever. But it seems like one the Raptors might want to have back.