- By Jodie Valade Special to the AJC
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dwight Howard says all the reporters that talked to him at Friday’s morning shootaround misunderstood what he meant when he proclaimed how much he wanted to beat his old team, the Hawks, the only franchise that has traded him in his 14-year career.
"I wanna kill them," he said hours before tipoff. "I’ll leave it right there."
Afterward, when his Charlotte Hornets had, in fact, at least maimed the Hawks 121-110 thanks in part to 18 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks from the 6-11 center, Howard had a new spin on his declaration.
"Everybody took it out of proportion," Howard said. “We was talking about a UFC fight and I was just like, ‘I’m gonna kill ‘em!’ And they took it out of proportion. But it really doesn’t matter. I’m always going to play basketball and enjoy myself. I have nothing but love for my city, Atlanta. I’m always true to Atlanta.”
Despite Howard’s post-game revision of his comments, he did his part to contribute to the Hornets’ swiping the victory, logging eight points, five rebounds and three key blocks in the final quarter of the back-and-forth battle with the Hawks.
“I don’t know if he (had extra motivation),” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said, “but I’m going to tell you something I told him in the locker room: His basket protection tonight was unbelievable. I mean, there were four or five just phenomenal basketball plays. Phenomenal, just phenomenal stuff. It was unbelievable.”
When Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer was asked prior to the game whether Howard’s pre-game comments surprised him, he had a succinct response: “No.”
Clifford, for his part, defended his center’s right to proclaim how badly he wanted to win a mid-season game in January.
“He’s fun-loving, but he’s always had an edge,” he said. “I think it’s one of the reasons he’s had the career that he’s had. I think he’s always controlled it well. You want every guy to be as motivated as they can be. Again, some guys don’t control that well, I believe he does.”
Howard’s double-double was his 29th of the season, accomplished Friday when he battled foul trouble that included logging his fourth foul with 5:56 left in the third quarter.
“I’m just happy we got the win,” Howard said. “Thank God. Nobody was injured. Killing them is not always scoring a million points, but it’s doing all of the little things that matter. That’s what happened tonight.”