While the Lakers as a whole have been rather disappointing this preseason, there have been standout individual performances. While Malik Monk has rightfully been the recipient of many plaudits, Dwight Howard has seamlessly returned back into the fold with the Lakers this season.
On Friday, Howard had his best performance of the preseason, scoring 23 points with 12 rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting overall and a surprising 7-of-11 free-throw shooting. While he was impressive statistically, Howard’s role with the Lakers is one that won’t be measured in statistical production this season.
Following the loss to the Warriors despite a spirited late comeback, Howard spoke about the role for him and fellow big man DeAndre Jordan with the team this season.
“We know when we come in the game and it’s energy, effort and intensity,” Howard said, “and that’s what we plan to do as soon as we get out there: Play as hard as we can, and try to change the game with our effort, and I thought we did that tonight.”
On top of bringing an energy and effort to the game off the bench on a nightly basis, Howard also acknowledged that he is tasked with bringing physicality to the court every night as well.
“Every game is gonna be different, but I want to beat them up in the paint,” Howard said. “If I’m in the paint, I do whatever I can to get offensive rebounds, get the other team in foul trouble, get them frustrated, and that’s my game. That’s what this team needs.”
Never was Howard’s ability to physically impose himself on a team more apparent than inside the bubble during the Lakers’ season against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. Howard’s defense against Nikola Jokic was overly aggressive at times but distinctly impactful.
Howard started the final two games of the season, supplanting JaVale McGee in the center position and ultimately playing 35 minutes in the decisive Game 6 victory for the Lakers over Denver.
The Lakers clearly desired that mindset and approach this offseason, leading to them signing Howard and, later in the summer, Jordan. The Lakers’ desire to be bigger, faster, stronger than teams requires the likes of Howard and Jordan to be imposing forces in the middle.
If the pair can do that for the Lakers this season, it’s a formula that has had success in the past and could pay big dividends again this season.