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Lakers Newsletter: Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee are having plenty of fun

Veteran centers Dwight Howard, left, and JaVale McGee are having an enjoyable time with the Lakers this season.
Veteran centers Dwight Howard, left, and JaVale McGee are having an enjoyable time with the Lakers this season.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your Lakers newsletter.

The Lakers had one hiccup over the last week, but then got their first easy win of the season Wednesday night. It came against the Golden State Warriors, who are a shell of their former selves.

The Lakers didn’t have Rajon Rondo on Wednesday night, as he hasn’t been medically cleared to play games on back-to-back nights yet, but Rondo made his season debut Tuesday.

“I got to give my teammates credit,” Rondo said. “They came in the last couple days and played five-on-five with me. We were able to get up and down, got in a couple game scenarios and tried to simulate the game as best as we could.”

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Rondo’s return helped the Lakers’ ball movement with their second unit.

“We had a 120 offensive rating, and I believe that’s the highest of the year for us,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Him running that second unit the way he did, orchestrating, getting us to play with pace and keeping us organized was a big factor in the game.”

During the last week, the Lakers got to know themselves more and more. We’ll get to all that, but first …

How much fun are Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee having?

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There was a moment during Tuesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns when I looked down at the Lakers bench and saw Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee standing side by side, pantomiming a motion one of their teammates had made as he rose to the basket for a layup. They were in perfect sync at first, and then each took turns showing the other his impression.

One could be excused for entering the season with concerns about the dynamic between Howard and McGee in a season when they’d be expected to share playing time. But their chemistry has been terrific since training camp started.

“If I’m having a bad game, then he’s picking me up,” McGee said. “If he’s having a bad game, then I’m picking him up. If we’re both having a great game, we’re winning the game. It’s pretty good. I like it. And I also like the fact that we can just keep a big in the game all the time and unlike what Golden State makes people do, go small, I feel like we have the opportunity to make people go big.”

A concern people had about Howard was that he hadn’t taken a serious approach in the past; he dispelled that notion with the Lakers during training camp.

But once Howard proved that he could provide the Lakers what they needed on the court, he was able to show that the fun-loving side of his personality remains. He plays to the crowd, and sometimes his teammates ask him to do that. It hasn’t gotten in the way of his game.

Instead, the Lakers are getting strong performances out of both McGee and Howard on a regular basis. McGee’s best game of the season was perhaps against the Warriors on Wednesday night, but he was also very good the night before.

“I know he had 18 points, 17 rebounds, but he had three blocks, three steals, really led in care factor with protecting the rim for our defense,” Vogel said. “And both of those guys, Dwight and JaVale had back-to-back really strong nights. Their tag-team [Wednesday night] was 13 for 19, 33 points, 25 boards from the center position. You know, those guys are supposed to be role players on our team.”

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Since last we spoke…

  • Then the streak ended. The Toronto Raptors might have lost their star to free agency and two more starters to injury, but the group that is left ended the Lakers’ winning streak by exposing the Lakers’ weak spot — transition defense.
  • Anthony Davis blocked a shot against the Raptors, then winced and grabbed his shoulder. He admitted after the game that there isn’t really a time when he doesn’t feel pain in his shoulder.
  • Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams and Davis have a connection that goes back years. Davis is happy to see Williams as a head coach again — a position for which the Lakers interviewed him.
  • On the court after the Lakers’ win over the Suns, LeBron James and Anthony Davis gave Kyle Kuzma a loving “welcome back.” Kuzma scored 23 points and finally felt like himself after working back from his injury.
  • Howard and McGee want to make other teams have to adjust to them, the way teams have had to adjust to the Warriors going small in the past.
  • Anthony Davis sat out Wednesday’s game to tend to his injured right shoulder. He has been playing through the injury for several weeks, but it wasn’t smart to force him to get through games on back-to-back nights. Davis also injured his ribs on Tuesday night, giving further reason not to push him.
  • LeBron James knew he had to carry more of the load on Wednesday night because Anthony Davis was out. Columnist Dylan Hernandez took a look at it.
  • Wednesday night, the Lakers faced a team populated with little-known players, many of whom were in the early stages of learning how to play in the NBA. Their head coach spoke before the game of raising them, teaching them and looking toward the future. Sounds familiar right? The Warriors now find themselves in a place the Lakers have been in for the last several years. No one felt sorry for the Lakers as they mired in six playoff-free years, and few sympathize with the Warriors now.
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope landed awkwardly on his ankle last night, but X-rays were negative for a fracture. He said there was some swelling, but it’s not too bad. He will be reevaluated Friday.
  • Meanwhile, the Lakers’ schedule over the next couple of weeks gives them a chance to beat up on some struggling teams. Colleague Broderick Turner takes a look at it.

That’s all for now. We’ll get back to it next week.


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