Charlotte Hornets

Hornets’ trade for Dwight Howard was a risk. So, Steve Clifford, has it paid off?

Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard has had his best season since the last time he was an NBA All-Star, in 2014 for Houston. How did he get here?
Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard has had his best season since the last time he was an NBA All-Star, in 2014 for Houston. How did he get here? AP

Center Dwight Howard’s flaws are no secret after 34,000-plus NBA minutes: He is a liability as a foul-shooter (53 percent) and is 12th in the league in turnovers at 3.04 per game.

However, he has clearly provided what the Charlotte Hornets needed when they traded for him in June: A rim protector, a rebounder, a general force in the lane. At 32, Howard is in his 14th NBA season, and is still having major impact.

“This might be his best (season) since his second year in Houston,” his last All-Star season in 2014, coach Steve Clifford said Monday.

The Hornets took control of Monday’s home victory over the Sacramento Kings in the third quarter. That’s when Howard had five of his six blocks.

“That was some impressive stuff. He owned the rim: Blocking shots, changing shots and getting the rebounds,” said Clifford, who previously coached Howard as an assistant with the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers.. “He showed you why he was Defensive Player of the Year three times.”

Howard faces a big challenge Wednesday, in a home game against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans have the best one-two punch among NBA big men in DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Cousins and Davis each averages more than 25 points this season, and the Pelicans (25-21) enter this game sixth in the Western Conference.

Monday was one of Howard’s better games as a Hornet: Fourteen points, 16 rebounds and six blocks.

The Hornets took a risk in trading for Howard, assuming two seasons of massive guaranteed salary at more than $23 million each season. Clifford’s previous relationship with him was a major factor in that decision.

“If you saw the work he did over the summer (in Atlanta): He was on the court, he was (constantly) in the weight room,” Clifford said. “When he went to China for his sneaker deal (a long promotional appearance), he brought (trainers) with him. He put a lot into it.”

Clifford said fans tend to forget Howard has come back from a knee injury and major back surgery to play this well.

“I think what is sometimes missed is how smart” a basketball player he is, Clifford explained. “It’s not just the blocks, it’s recovering the ball. He just owned the paint.”

Bonnell :704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell

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