Dwight Howard's season of redemption with Los Angeles Lakers
Dwight Howard has had a season of redemption in his return to the Los Angeles Lakers. He has been the rebounding and defensive leader off the bench. Howard has often inspired the team with his energy, toughness, and his recaptured joy for the game. He has also provided offense at times, almost exclusively in the paint, but even from the outside at times.
The way Howard runs the court and flies through the air, he has not looked like a 34-year-old with a serious of back and shoulder issues, but closer to his prime “Superman” years with the Orlando Magic. In fact, it has even been rumored that the 2008 dunk champion would participate in this year’s Dunk Contest in Chicago.
Howard, along with JaVale McGee and Anthony Davis, has provided a daunting blockade for opponents at the rim. Howard has particularly stepped up in the absence of Anthony Davis in the last few games. One of the most notable games was against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which was a struggle in the first half, but became a blowout in the second half.
Howard was a major factor in that turnaround with 21 points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists, on 9-of-11 shooting from the field in just 26 minutes. Seemingly any time the ball was lobbed to him or passed to him he caught it and slammed it. He also has added a shocking wrinkle to his game – the 3-pointer. In this game, he hit on his lone 3-point attempt.
Thus far this season, he has connected on 3 out of 5 attempts from beyond the arc for the season. He has been known to diligently practice threes in practice, and it is starting to show in game action. The first one was a buzzer-beater against the Utah Jazz. But the last two – which have both happened within a week – he shot without hesitation in blowouts against the Knicks and Cavs. Each time he connected, the bench went wild, especially LeBron James.
In Wednesday’s game against his former team, the Orlando Magic, he followed up with 9 points and 16 rebounds. The Lakers lost that game 119-118, snapping a nine-game winning streak. It has been argued online (including by yours truly), that coach Frank Vogel’s decision to bring back in JaVale McGee for Dwight Howard down the stretch was a critical factor in their loss.
McGee can block and affect shots with his length and athleticism, but overall, he is simply not defensive or rebounding presence that Howard is. McGee left the lane open for Aaron Gordon to throw down dunks (even lobbing to himself off the glass) and Markelle Fultz to score layups. He also left Nikola Vucevic open for a critical three-pointer late in the 4th.
One has to wonder if those events would have happened with Howard there instead. Nevertheless, Dwight Howard has answered all concerns about him being washed up and being a bad teammate who doesn’t take the game seriously. Players and coaches have raved about him, and he has become a fan favorite at Staples Center. The latter is particularly ironic considering he was booed vigorously each time he visited before, after an acrimonious departure from the Lakers as a free agent in 2013.
Howard has also effectively reversed previous criticisms about setting proper screens and guarding on the perimeter. His season of redemption was cemented when his one-year, $2.56 million dollar contract officially became guaranteed on January 7th. There was no more uncertainty about his status on the team or in the NBA. For the rest of the season, he is officially here to stay.
Modified 16 Jan 2020, 17:00 IST