Last summer, Dwight Howard signed a non-guaranteed contract with the Lakers to prove to the team (and himself) that he could be a contributor without having to be the star that he was when he first played in Los Angeles in 2012. While there were plenty of reasons to be skeptical at first, Howard quickly turned his doubters into believers.
What’s ironic, though, is that the Lakers actually need Howard to play a big role in order to get past Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. Howard, 34, isn’t as strong or young as he used to be, but he’s shown that he’s still capable of guarding skilled post players like Jokic, of which there aren’t many left of in the NBA.
The problem is that Howard has a tendency of getting into foul trouble early — a tendency that has made it hard for Lakers head coach Frank Vogel to keep him on the floor.
“Dwight’s used to playing starters minutes throughout his career,” Vogel said before Tuesday’s game. “I feel like we can get more from him. The fouls have been an issue. A couple of fouls weren’t fouls last game, but you know, we’ve just got to make sure he plays with that energy without fouling. If he does that, we can get more minutes for him.”
Vogel wants Howard to keep playing physically, but he also wants Howard to find a balance between being aggressive and fouling.
“The perfect scenario is he has one or two fouls throughout the game but just brings a physical presence and toughness and energy to the game,” Vogel said after practice on Wednesday. “I’m really happy with the energy that he’s playing with. He’s really producing positive results on the court, but some of it is negated with the fouls, for sure.”
The Lakers have posted a defensive rating of 91.1 with Howard on the floor in the last three games and a defensive rating of 119.1 when he’s been on the bench. Their offense has also been 8.1 points better per 100 possessions with him on the court. The only player on the Lakers with a better overall point differential in the last three games is Anthony Davis.
Howard should probably be starting, and it’s something that Vogel’s said he’s considered, but his lack of discipline when it comes to fouling is clearly an issue. Hopefully Howard has a better showing in that regard in Game 4.