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JaVale McGee plans to start at center for Lakers, thinks he and Dwight Howard can be ‘a one-two punch’ by filling in for each other

We don’t know for certain whether JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard will start for the Lakers this season, but McGee certainly sounds like he wants to leave no doubt that he’s the best option for the team.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Who the Los Angeles Lakers will use for the majority of their minutes at point guard may be relatively up in the air while head coach Frank Vogel sorts through his various options in training camp, but it seems safe to assume we know who will soak up most of the team’s minutes at center: Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee.

With Anthony Davis (understandably) not wanting to grind down his body playing center until it’s absolutely necessary, Howard and McGee appear to be the only real options at the five to start the season. And while it’s unknown which of them will ultimately become Vogel’s preferred option and who will start, McGee told Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum SportsNet that he expects to be the answer to the latter question:

“I started last year, so I wouldn’t expect anything less. But it’s definitely not up to me, it’s up to the coach, but I don’t plan on showing him anything other than that I’m the starting center for the Lakers.”

That’s a predictable stance from McGee, who took a lot of pride in proving he was a starting-caliber center last year. Plus, every professional athlete wants to start and contribute to the team that way, all things being equal. It’s just a matter of proving they’re the best fit for such a role, and while it appears McGee is comfortable with Vogel being the one making that choice, it also sounds like he wants to play well enough to make starting him an easy decision for his new head coach.

None of this means that McGee thinks Howard is bad or anything. Quite the opposite, in fact, as he thinks that the two of them can combine to make life tough on their opponents for 48 minutes:

Bresnahan: Dwight Howard, how is he going to fit in?

McGee: I feel like he’s going to fit great. I feel like we have similar games, and the fact that we can have a one-two punch right after each other, coming in right after each other, I don’t think that’s going to be good for other teams at all... Two bigs that can defend the rim, run the floor and dunk it, so I’m excited.

Howard and McGee have their differences as players — Howard is a bit stouter in the post, for example — but as McGee points out, they are of a similar archetype. Having two centers who are essentially rim-runners, shot-blockers and screeners has positives and negatives, as it will make game-planning and building an offense easier on Vogel (who doesn’t have to come up with ideas for two types of players) but leaves the Lakers potentially vulnerable against any opponent who is a bad matchup for Howard and McGee.

If Howard was some stretch-five that could also defend the rim, then McGee’s goal of starting might be in trouble. However, Howard still needing to prove he even deserves a guaranteed contract — a contract McGee already has — would seem to somewhat indicate who the team expects to be the better option.

It also sounds like McGee is in agreement with them, and beyond just to check in to see if Howard sticks with the Lakers this year at all, it will be interesting to watch their training camp/preseason positional battle go down. Both to see how much Howard has left in the tank, and if his presence on the roster pushes McGee to be better, or leaves him sulking like he did when Ivica Zubac took his role last season. It’s all just one more variable to keep an eye on during what should be a fascinating year for the Lakers.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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