ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Patrick Ewing has a theory on why Orlando Magic do-it-all center Dwight Howard isn’t mentioned as a leading MVP candidate: He’s a big man.

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade lure voters with their “flash and dash,” said Ewing, quickly adding that when it comes to substance, Howard is equally dominant as that trio.

Howard and the Magic face James and the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday in the final regular-season meeting between the Eastern Conference division leaders.

The Magic don’t expect the attention to be on Howard.

“I think it’s because he plays the center position,” said Ewing, a Hall of Fame center with the New York Knicks and now a Magic assistant coach. “You guys look for that flash and dash. All the other guys who are in the race are all small guys. He’s a big guy who should be in there.”

Ewing, of course, might be a little biased. He works closely with Howard and in his 17 NBA seasons as one of the NBA’s most dominant big men, Ewing was an 11-time All-Star, but never league MVP.

Yet there is a case to be made for Howard.

The Magic center is leading the NBA in rebounding (13.9) and blocks (2.93) per game and has the second most double-doubles (57) in the league this season. Howard ranks third in shooting percentage (58 percent) and his 21.2 points per game is no slouch.

Such statistics have him as a leading candidate for defensive player of the year yet only James, Bryant and Wade have been mentioned for the league’s most prestigious regular-season honor in the MVP. Even central Florida resident and the Magic’s most famous fan, Tiger Woods, left Howard out of the discussion when asked last month who should get the award.

Despite getting a record 3,150,181 votes to lead this season’s All-Star team, the Magic feel Howard has been getting an MVP snub.

“He’s having an outstanding year,” Ewing said. “He should be definitely in the MVP race. Nobody’s really talking about him. He should be right up there with Kobe, LeBron and Wade.”

But there are differences.

The 6-foot-11 Howard is not a ballhandler like James, Wade and Bryant – evidence by his 3.1 turnovers per game that ranks among the worst in the league. Howard’s poor free throw shooting, which has been hovering around 60 percent this season, is part of the reason the Magic often don’t go to him for late game-winning shots – the kind that have become marquee moments for the trio leading the MVP race.

Still, Howard has had some game-saving blocks like the one last week on Paul Pierce’s layup attempt that gave Orlando a win over Boston. Howard believes his defensive work is often overshadowed.

“For our team to be successful, every night I have to rebound and we have to block shots as a team and as individuals,” Howard said. “So it might be overlooked by a lot of people.”

He’s had his share of scoring highlights.

Howard has wowed crowds with monstrous dunks and rebounds that, at times, he appears to soar above the backboard. And he has the Magic (55-19) battling with Boston (57-19) for the Eastern Conference’s second seed, with a chance to top the franchise’s regular-season record of 60 wins set in the 1995-96 season behind Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway.

“I don’t think he has to be a flashing shooting guard. He’s a flashy big man,” Magic guard Courtney Lee said. “You see the dunks and the alley-hoops that he gets. There’s no other big man in the league doing that.”

On the national stage, Orlando’s 23-year-old center is still seen mostly as just a dunker and an up-and-coming player.

Howard is best known nationally for dressing in full Superman regalia – cape and all – to win last year’s All-Star dunk competition. This year, however, he was dethroned by 5-foot-9 New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson.

The Magic aren’t ready to hand Howard the award, but they do believe he should at least be among those considered.

“No question, he belongs in the MVP conversation,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said.

Howard believes it might take a championship to get into the upper echelon of MVP consideration. And he doesn’t mind waiting if it means winning a title.

“Once it’s my time, then it’s my time,” Howard said. “Right now, my main concern is not MVP, but making sure we win games. That’s the only way we can win a championship.”

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