The role that Dwight Howard now plays for the Lakers is not the part he played in years past when he was the central character.
But what Howard is focused on, LeBron James said Tuesday night, is being comfortable in his new capacity.
So while Howard came off the bench for the Lakers as a backup center and not the starter he once was, he still was a force in many aspects of their impressive 105-96 win over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday at the Pepsi Center.
Howard was physical and productive, scoring 13 points, catching lobs for dunks, collecting six rebounds and blocking two shots.
“Throughout Dwight’s career, he’s been a guy you bring the ball down and you throw to him in the post and everybody works off of him,” James said. “Now he’s a screener. He’s a roller. He’s a guy who facilitates the offense if you pass it in to him. He gets the ball to the guards and he waits for his opportunities and he’s basically been great in that role. And that’s all just about growth mind-set. And that’s for the whole team.”
Howard was his best new self in the fourth quarter, playing with passion and a purpose. He made all three of his shots in the quarter, grabbed two rebounds, blocked one shot, was physical and played great defense.
He had a tip dunk in the fourth, a lob dunk off a pass from James and then ran down court and blocked a shot by Will Barton.
Howard had another dunk off a lob from James and made one of four free throws to help the Lakers hold on to their lead.
“As a big, when you get a couple of those lobs and stuff like that it kind of gets you going and gets your legs going,” Howard said. “You feel like you can go block anything. At that moment, that’s how I felt. I had just got a lob and I felt really good about it. I was able to get back down the court and have my legs. It was good.”
Howard’s defense on Denver All-Star center Nikola Jokic was equally impressive because the 6-foot-10 Howard was being physical.
“He’s a lob threat at the basket,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He fouls a lot, but he brings physicality to the game. It turns it into a fight. It just brings an edge to our team. So, he was terrific tonight.”
Howard was called for four fouls in 19 minutes. Two of his fouls were for setting screens.
“Every night I try to play physical, and sometimes I get penalized for being too physical,” Howard said. “I think tonight was my least physical night, to be honest with you.”
Howard checked out of the game for good with 4:46 left, having done his job.
He had taken one unwise three-pointer, but all was forgiven because Howard played the rest of his new role the right way.
“He gives us a lob threat at the rim,” James said. “He puts pressure on the defense, gives us extra possessions. He can block shots and is able to battle on the post against certain bigs. He was a big lift for us tonight.”