The battles between Marcin Gortat and Dwight Howard took place long before these NBA playoffs. For three-plus years the 32-year-old Polish center went at Howard in spirited practices with the Orlando Magic. Their history is well-documented, and a 1-0 series lead for the Wizards doesn't mean he's going to engage in any more chatter than necessary.
"When I see people tell me that Dwight did this this and that, and the end of the day I know what this kid is going to bring to the table," said Gortat, who had 14 points 10 rebounds in Sunday's 114-107 victory against the Atlanta Hawks. "I'll have to guard him for at least three more games. I'm going to cut (the nonsense) off at this point. I know what this guy is."
Howard had a game-high 14 rebounds but only scored seven points. He shot 2-for-6. Gortat was a dunking machine, even drawing a technical foul for taunting Paul Millsap.
That likely won't happen with Howard, who is one year younger and in his first year in Atlanta. It's his third team since leaving Orlando in 2012. Gortat, who was a backup who started 19 games in his time here, was traded the previous year to the Phoenix Suns. Two years after that, he was shipped to the Wizards.
"I know exactly what its like defending Dwight for the first four years. You got to bring your best. You better not lose your focus becuase he's going to punish you, hurt you really bad," Gortat said. "I just try to stay focused for 48 minutes. I'm not going to say anything crazy because I truly respect the guy. We're going to have our little shoving matches, pushes, garbage-talking but at the end of the day he's my vet. He took care of me back in Orlando. I'll never forget what he did for me. That he made me a better player."
Their battles in practice were tougher than what Gortat experienced in Game 1. It could ratchet upwards in Game 2 Wednesday. The league determined in it's last two-minute report that Gortat got away with two fouls, both came on holds of Howard and Mike Muscala on rebounds.
"One thing I really love about Dwight is after the game he doesn't take anything personally. I'm not going to take anything personally. Even though he made me bleed every day for my first four years in the NBA. I bled everyday in practice," Gortat said. "I learned to play tough basketball. He made me who I am today. I was going against an animal in practice."
Gortat played good position defense. He helped seal off the lanes to the basket and kept Howard on his hip simultaneously. He beat Howard down the floor, dunked, and got back on the defensive end to push him off the low block before the entry pass came. It was the type of high-motor effort that'll be required for the Wizards to get through this stretch without Ian Mahinmi (strained left calf).
"The stuff that's going down here in the game, imagine the same stuff going three times harder in practice where you don't have whistles, fouls and stuff like that," Gortat said of the Orlando days. "It was pretty much for me about surviving practice, going to the weight room every day, lift hard because otherwise I'm going to end up in the hospital or a wheelchair."
He avoided the foul trouble that had slowed him in a lot of games after the All-Star break, too.
"I can't get relaxed over there and make sure I control those fouls," Gortat said. "It's better to have those three, four fouls in the fourth quarter where I can spend them just in case."