Dwight Howard was incredible for the Lakers in his first meaningful minutes in two weeks. He was an irritant on defense, a tireless screener and lob threat on offense and overall gave the Lakers tons of energy off the bench to help them beat the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
Howard played so well that Lakers head coach Frank Vogel opted to start him over JaVale McGee in the second half on Friday night, something he’s thinking about doing right from the jump when Game 2 tips off on Sunday.
“I’m considering that, but I won’t reveal our starting lineup until tomorrow night, 30 minutes before the game,” Vogel said after practice on Saturday.
Howard was clearly relishing his role as a physical pest on defense, but after Game 1 he also didn’t sound like he’s too worried about whether he’ll be starting or coming off the bench moving forward. He’s just happy to help this team however he can.
“A lot of times, this is where people just fall, when they get right there to the finish line,” Howard said of playing in the conference finals. “For myself, I just said ‘be prepared for whatever. Five minutes, 10 minutes, one minute, however many minutes you play, just go out there and leave it all on the line.’”
The argument to start Howard is fairly clear. He was obviously better at defending and annoying the Nuggets, and his skill set just seems to make him a smoother fit in general for this series. However, Vogel said at practice that he makes adjustments, whether they’re tactical or rotational in nature, on a “case-by-case” basis, and said one of the challenges of doing so in the NBA playoffs is making sure he doesn’t make them too soon.
“You always want to have moves to make,” Vogel said. “You don’t want to start with your plan C or D. You try plan A first and see how that works and see how that plays out.
“I typically won’t cement any decisions until the morning of game day. We’ll have a postgame feeling of where we’re at, watch the tape, measure it again the next day, have an idea of where we’re going without putting it in cement, and then sleep on it that next night and wake up that morning with a plan.”
On that timeline, it sounds like Vogel will know whether he’s going to bench McGee again or stick with Howard coming off the bench by Sunday morning. The rest of us will find out 30 minutes before the Lakers start Game 2, which will tip off at 4:30 p.m. PT tomorrow night.