The Los Angeles Lakers will be making a change to their starting lineup, with a new face getting a shot at the starting center spot. Dwight Howard will start his first game of the season for the Lakers on Friday against the Clippers, head coach Frank Vogel revealed after practice on Thursday.
With the team having already committed to playing one center moving forward, Howard’s insertion into the starting lineup means DeAndre Jordan will not only move out of the lineup, but out of the rotation entirely, outside of emergency situations.
Vogel detailed the team’s thought process in making the change on Thursday (emphasis mine):
“We made the decision a couple games ago that because trying to play both of those guys in really short minutes it didn’t really feel easy for one to get into a rhythm... So we made a decision to only use one of them unless, obviously, we had foul trouble or whatnot. And it was DeAndre for a bit.
“I decided in the middle of the first quarter of last game that I wanted to see what Dwight could do, and it was Dwight for the rest of that game. And I do intend to start Dwight tomorrow against the Clippers, and it will be a situation where we just monitor really on a game-to-game basis going forward, but with the intention of just giving those center minutes to one player and not two. Whether it’s DeAndre or Dwight.”
Just minutes into the first quarter of Tuesday’s game against the Kings, Jordan was pulled from the game in favor of Howard, who had been told he would not be playing on the night. Jordan never returned, with Howard starting the second half.
Howard’s performance in his time on Tuesday certainly made the decision easier for Vogel as he finished with a plus-minus of +30 in the second half and had 12 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes total.
After the game, Vogel gave his reasoning for going to Howard over Jordan with many of the same undertones (emphasis mine, again):
“Just a coach’s decision... I felt like Dwight was going to give us a lift in this game, and I was right. He played terrific. He came in and really changed the game with his energy. Him in particular in that third quarter with his pick and roll coverage, he’s more familiar with what we do. He came in and just really set the tone with physicality, with effort, communication, and obviously helped us on the boards. And you see his plus-minus was +27, so just a hell of a night for him.”
In 276 minutes this season, Jordan has a net rating of -7.5, third-worst on the Lakers behind only Kent Bazemore — also out of the rotation — and Avery Bradley. Comparatively, Howard has a net rating of +2 in 293 minutes this season, with only Austin Reaves and Malik Monk sporting higher ratings.
In that sense, it’s felt like a long time coming that Howard would supplant Jordan. For now, there certainly isn’t expected to be any sort of uproar from Jordan in his move to the bench after joining the Lakers this summer in the hopes of playing following a trade to — and buyout from — the Pistons.
“Everybody that signed on with us this year understands the bigger picture, that this is a team that’s trying to compete for a championship,” Vogel said. “Sacrifice is going to be required at times, and all of those conversations have been super healthy and well-received.”
The long-running concern with Howard has been whether his high energy levels and foul rate can allow him to play starter’s minutes. It’s why the team only turned to him as a starter in the 2019-20 season in the playoffs, and not until the Western Conference Finals. Even then, the team eventually went away from Howard in the starting lineup in their decisive Game 6 win in the NBA Finals.
In that situation, the lack of travel and number of days off between each game likely played a large part in his effectiveness. Presently, the Lakers are in a light period of their schedule with two days between their game against the Kings and Friday’s showdown with the Clippers. The team will then have a three-day break before playing Boston on Tuesday.
Add it all up, and it makes sense the Lakers have gone to this move now, especially as the team looks to build on back-to-back wins and in a time they need to execute at an even higher level without James in the lineup.