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AP photo
Orlando's Dwight Howard (left) shoots over Lamar Odom (7) of the Los Angeles Lakers during Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday in Orlando.
AP photo Orlando's Dwight Howard (left) shoots over Lamar Odom (7) of the Los Angeles Lakers during Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday in Orlando.

Kareem: Howard's offensive game is still a little raw

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar doesn't see much future for Dwight Howard in all those rim-rocking dunks and power moves from the Orlando Magic center.

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The NBA's career scoring leader would like to see Howard not rely so much on his size and athleticism and make himself a player his team can turn to when it counts. Maybe even throw in a skyhook or two.

"He's still offensively kind of raw," Abdul-Jabbar said Wednesday. "He doesn't have a go-to move yet. Right now, he's kind of predictable."

The NBA finals have shown that Howard has a long way to go to be the dominant offensive center the Lakers' Hall of Famer was. The Magic trail Los Angeles 2-1, with Game 4 on Thursday night.

So far, Howard's Superman act has mostly been grounded.

"Kareem is right, and he understands that in order to be a good player you have to add different things to your game," Howard said. "I've tried to do the skyhook just like him, but he had more range and more touch. He was shooting skyhooks from the 3-point line, and I'm still working on it from the paint, so I've got a long way to go."

The Lakers have tested the 23-year-old Howard's skills perhaps more than any team in the playoffs and exposed Howard's still developing fundamentals. They've harassed him with double-teams, surrounded him with 7-footers and shrunk his passing lanes.

The constant different looks have eased the pressure on the Lakers' frontcourt.

"So far, it hasn't been all that bad," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said about guarding Howard.

The Magic big man has averaged 16.6 points per game in the series, made just 11 shots from the field and even fewer dunks. That's down from his 20.9 points in the regular season.

If not for Orlando's shooting a finals record 62.5 percent from the field in its Game 3 win, the pressure would have elevated even more on Howard, who jumped straight from his Atlanta high school to the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA.

Howard is working to improve his offensive skills.

He often spends nights at the Magic's practice facility with friends, shooting hooks and as many as 300 free throws with music blaring at the highest decibels. As a kid, too, he used to emulate Abdul-Jabbar on the playground with the skyhook.

The running hook, not quite the towering shot Abdul-Jabbar perfected, is a move Howard has begun to develop over his first five seasons in the NBA. If he can make it consistently, he said it would take his game to the level of the all-time greats.

His teammates often laugh at criticism of Howard's offensive talents.

After all, they say when you're nearly 7 feet, weigh more than 265 pounds with some of the broadest shoulders and leaping ability in the league, why shouldn't you just dunk? That off-the-charts athleticism has been showcased in the last two All-Star dunk contests, when he's donned Superman regalia and soared seemingly above the backboard.

"If I was that big, I wouldn't ever shoot a jump shot," Magic guard Courtney Lee joked.

Working closely with Magic assistant coach and former New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing, Howard has said that he's still reaching his potential, often saying it's only around 20 percent. Only time will tell if that holds true.

Abdul-Jabbar, who's currently working as a special assistant with the Lakers, agrees. If there's one thing he loves about Howard's game, it's his defense.

Howard is the NBA defensive player of the year after leading the league in blocks and rebounds this season. Leading those two categories in the same season is something the Lakers great -- and only three others -- have accomplished.

But Abdul-Jabbar is waiting for the offense to catch up.

"Dwight is kind of limited offensively," he said. "He does great right under the basket, you force him to do other things, he doesn't have an answer for it yet. But I think that's his challenge."

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