The Los Angeles Lakers have received some big help from an unlikely source in their two wins over the Jazz and Hornets. Dwight Howard, signed to replace the injured DeMarcus Cousins, has been instrumental in injecting energy and protecting the paint, being a major catalyst on blowing games open.
Howard’s game against the Hornets was a master class for how a backup center should play and the former Defensive Player of the Year’s stats backed it up. Howard finished the game with 16 points, hitting all eight of his attempts from the field, and added ten rebounds and four blocks. The Lakers outscored Charlotte by 23 points when he was on the court.
After the game, LeBron James detailed that this was what the team expected they would get from Howard all along (via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin):
“That’s why we brought him here. While everyone else was writing him off, we felt like we could give him a great opportunity, and we believed in him. We believed his word, and he’s making the most of it, and we’re truly excited to have him here right now.”
Of course, it’s hard to believe that the Lakers thought Dwight Howard could be this successful. The center played only nine games last year due to injury and his recurring back issues have sapped him of much of the athleticism that once made him one of the best players in the game. Still, Lakers management and key players like James saw enough in the big man to give him a chance when they were desperate for frontcourt help. So far, he has not taken that for granted:
“I’m grateful,” Howard said. “I think myself and the fans have been through a lot together. But just to be back here, man, it means a lot. I just take it all in, every second, every moment on the court. It’s valuable. Hopefully the fans enjoy when we go out there and put everything on the line. I just try to bring that energy and that effort and that intensity every night — and have fun doing it.
“You don’t want to take anything for granted,” Howard said. “Surgeries. Missing games. Being out for seasons and stuff like that. Every moment that you have on the court is very valuable. Before I even had an opportunity to come to the Lakers, I just kept telling myself, ‘Wherever I’m at, whoever I’m playing for, when I step on the court, give 110 percent. Whether it’s for two minutes, 30 seconds, 15 minutes, just do whatever you can to help that team win.’
“I end up coming back to the best team, the best city in the world, so I’m very thankful.”
Howard’s redemption arc in Los Angeles has the makings of a Hollywood script and has been the story of the first week of the season. The Lakers will be hoping that it’s here to stay for the long haul.