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Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee get back to work in Lakers’ Game 1 win

Lakers center Dwight Howard finishes off an alley-oop dunk during Game 1.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The night began when JaVale McGee blocked a shot by Nikola Jokic on Denver’s first possession of Game 1, setting a tone for how engaged the Lakers big men were going to be.

When backup Dwight Howard took over at center, there was no let up, his play even more forceful.

Howard essentially was a star in his role, playing at a high level, seemingly driven by just being able to provide the Lakers a lift in the Western Conference finals against a Nuggets team playing with big centers.

He played 16 impactful minutes during the Lakers’ 126-114 victory over Denver on Friday night, more than he did in the entire second-round series against the Houston Rockets.

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He was powerful in scoring 13 points on four-for-five shooting, five for eight from the free-throw line. He had three rebounds, two blocks, two steals and was a plus-14 in helping the Lakers open a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series that resumes Sunday.

“Well, I knew the last series was going to be tough for us,” Howard said via videoconference after the game. “During that time we had off — basically me and JaVale had off — during that time I just tried to mentally prepare myself for what’s coming up ahead, realizing that we’re right at the goal line. This is where the distractions, this is where things tend to always try to creep up on you. A lot of times this is where people just fall.… So for myself, I said, ‘Be prepared for whatever. Five minutes, 10 minutes, one minute, however minutes you play, just go out there and just lay it all on the line.’”

McGee was back in the starting lineup, but Howard started the second half. That payoff was immediate for the Lakers. Howard posted up Jokic down low and picked up the fourth foul on the Nuggets center. A few seconds later, Howard threw down a dunk off a lob pass from LeBron James.

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Howard was dialed in to this game from the beginning. He got Jokic to commit an offensive foul against him in the second quarter, which was his third foul in the first half and sent him to the bench with seven minutes and 21 seconds remaining.

Later in the second, Howard blocked a shot by Gary Harris out of bounds.

Howard doesn’t have to worry about facing the small-ball-centric Houston Rockets and seeing limited time because the Lakers went small.

Because the Nuggets have a 7-foot center in All-Star Jokic and 6-11 Mason Plumlee, there is a place for McGee and Howard to get playing time.

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The Lakers dominated the Nuggets during the second half to win Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Friday night in Orlando, Fla.

Howard played in just two of the five games against the Rockets, playing a total of 15 minutes 39 seconds.

But Howard never complained, instead cheering his teammates on. And now Howard has a role in the seven-game series and his teammates were celebrating his moments against the Nuggets.

“As a professional, I always stay ready,” he said. “I knew that last series was small-ball. Coach [Frank Vogel] had already told us it was going to be tough to get minutes because of how Houston plays, so instead of getting upset, I decided to go get ready for this series against whoever we play next.”


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