Dwight Howard began a new era of his career, donning a gold Los Angeles Lakers uniform for the first time in a game — albeit preseason — and offered a glimpse of what the franchise hopes will be routine: 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting, 12 rebounds, four blocks and two assists in 33 minutes of action in a 99-92 loss to the Sacramento Kings.
This was the first time Howard had played in a game for nearly six months since recovering from back surgery to repair a herniated disk. The Los Angeles crowd showed its appreciation by giving him a standing ovation, but what he did during the pregame introductions.
“I actually shed a couple of tears,” Howard said. “During the starting lineups, one of my teammates caught me, so I tried to hide it, but I was just too excited. It is really emotional, because I hadn’t been on the court for a while I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s a very humbling experience.”
After erasing the tears from the pregame introduction, Howard went to work. On the first possession of the game Howard assisted Kobe Bryant on a 3-pointer and less than a minute later he was on the receiving end of an alley-oop from Pau Gasol.
In the second quarter, Bryant assisted Howard by lofting a pass towards the rim and Howard grabbed the ball and flushed it through the basket for a slam dunk, causing the crowd to erupt.
“I just wanted to make sure he gets his feet wet,” Bryant said. “There’s been a lot of expectations placed upon him and upon us to live up to the hype and I didn’t want him to feel nervous.”
With the insertion of Howard into the starting lineup of the Lakers, they appeared to play well together as a unit. They made 6 of 8 shots to start the game and shot 60.6 percent as a team in the first half.
“He made the game easier for everyone,” said Steve Nash, another major Lakers’ offseason acquisition. “He’s such a presence and takes up so much space when he just rolls to the basket. So, it’s a gift to play with someone like that.”
Howard’s back was put to the test when he got tangled up with Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins and fell hard to the floor going after a put-back layup in the second half. He was able to bounce to his feet and head to the free throw line.
“I didn’t really feel anything,” Howard said. “I’m going to have some tough falls because I play hard and like to try to block those shots. But, it was cool. I don’t feel anything.”
Not only did Howard show his offensive capabilities, but he also demonstrated he was still a force to be dealt with on the defensive end. He came over to help out Gasol when he was matched up with Cousins and blocked his shot.
“He’s a guy that defensively covers a lot of ground,” said Gasol. “He’s very athletic, he alters a lot of shots, you feel like you have a safety right behind you. We can’t rely on him all the time to that. We have to keep guys in front of us. But he’s always going to be active to block shots because he’s such a force in there.”
Even with the contribution from Howard and Bryant’s 21 points, the Lakers were sent to their sixth straight preseason loss.
All five Laker starters were on the floor in the final minutes of the game, as Los Angeles gained the lead on Metta World Peace’s two 3-pointers 92-89. Cousins came down on the next two possessions and scored baskets to put the Kings back up 93-92. Then with 21 seconds left Nash missed a runner, which caused the Lakers to foul Jimmer Fredette on the next possession and make two free throws. Marcus Thornton sealed the game with two free throws and finished with 15 points.
After the game Lakers head coach Mike Brown gave his assessment on Howard.
“You could tell his timing was a little bit off at times,” Brown said. “A couple of times where he probably would have blocked the shot he was maybe a half step late and then offensively at times he was half a step late in certain areas but overall, I thought he looked good.”
Brown announced before the game that Howard would have no minute restrictions in the final two preseason games against the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday and Thursday against the Kings.
For right now Howard is just enjoying getting back to game that he loves.
“I had a lot of fun tonight,” he said. “I’m just thankful and blessed to be able to step on the floor again.”