You can feel the energy of the crowd flowing through the walls and hallways of Staples Center. Weeks of anticipation has boiled down to the mere introduction of the 6' 11", 267-pound beast of a center that has captured the attention and admiration of an entire city.
Dwight Howard is FINALLY back in action!
After months and weeks of guessing when he'll finally put on that purple and gold armor, the Lakers announced just a couple of hours before tip-off that Howard will make his long-awaited debut as the team's newest superstar big man against the visiting Sacramento Kings (4-1).
Howard's pulse may have been racing as he tore off his warm-ups to meet his teammates and greet the visitors at center court but it sure didn't look like it as he finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks in his first 33 minutes as a Laker.
Eyes were on his every move, every jump, every shot and every contact. No signs of that surgically repaired back whatsover. In fact, the only thing that showed is how long he's been out of the game. Nothing more.
While his presence rejuvenated Pau Gasol and brought confidence to the rest of the starters, Howard's return didn't do much for the second unit.
Mike Brown stayed true to his words that he'll be following his regular season rotation. Part of that is to put 4 bench players with Gasol at the start of the 4th quarter.
With the Lakers up by 7 points, it looked like it was safe enough to rest most of the starters. It certainly didn't seem like they could lose the lead having controlled the scoreboard for 3 quarters. But as the Lakers found out, nothing is ever what it seems.
In less than 5 minutes of the final quarter, Brown has seen enough out of the lackluster play of his second unit that he brought his entire starting lineup back out on the floor to salvage what could've been the Lakers' first win in pre-season. But it didn't' matter.
The frontcourt of Gasol and Howard forgot to box-out and the Kings' perimeter game in the 4th quarter was the difference in a 99-92 loss for the home team. Yes, the Lakers are the only winless team in exhibition in the entire league.
Overall, it's clear that the Lakers are still a project for Brown and his staff. None more so than the second unit thanks in large to the unexplainable struggles of Antawn Jamison and to a degree, Jodie Meeks. Eventhough Meeks has shot fairly better than Jamison, he is still too inconsistent to be trusted enough to give Kobe more minutes on the pine.
Of course, the problems the Lakers are still dealing with doesn't just rest on offense. Defensively, they are still not rotating quick enough and aren't helping out fast enough to bother shooters. Not to mention that their transition defense is looking more and more like a season-long project.
If that's the case, the Lakers have plenty of concerns before they can even talk about taking part at the big dance in June.
The good news, however, is there are still 2 more pre-season games left, including the 3rd and final meeting with the Kings, to continue to work on getting better before everything counts.
Kobe Bryant finished with a game-high 21 points on 6-12 shooting, 3 assists and 5 rebounds. Pau Gasol ended his night with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, 8 boards and 5 assists. Metta World Peace also tossed in 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-6 from far away, and scratched 4 rebounds and 4 steals.
Steve Nash gave Laker fans a scare in the 3rd quarter when he collided with Isaiah Thomas and turned his ankle while trying to prevent Thomas from intercepting a lazy pass from Bryant. Nash was shakened but stayed on the floor. Diagnosis on the ankle by long-time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti as a slight tweak, so no missed games for Steve is expected.
Nash had 6 points on 2-of-6 shooting, 5 assists and 5 boards.
The Lakers will be the visiting team against the Clippers on Wednesday at Staples Center and will roundout pre-season in San Diego versus the Kings the following night.
Player of the Game
Dwight Howard: First game back since having his back surgery in April and he was already dunking, intimidating and swatting shots without skipping a beat. What's even more impressive is he put up numbers he usually gets in the regular season.
at Los Angeles Clippers
Wednesday, Oct. 24th at 7:30 p.m.
TV: TWC Sports Network
Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN
Dwight Howard's First Bucket as a Laker
Extended Lakers Highlights (by NewLakersHD)