Dwight Howard’s debut didn’t do much to illuminate exactly how the Lakers will look in May, but there was one seven-second sequence Sunday night that neatly sums up how Dwight Howard radically impacts both the offense and defense for any team he plays on.
Just a couple minutes into Sunday night's game, Howard rotated off of the Kings' Thomas Robinson to pick up noted martial artist James Johnson, who had come free from Metta World Peace on a curling cut. Johnson, who is listed at 6-9, 245 pounds, gathered his legs and exploded at an angle to the rim that is almost impossible for a defender to intercept without fouling.
But that’s just what Howard did.
A quick lateral slide placed Howard squarely between Johnson and the rim, and as the Laker center jumped to contest the shot, he drifted slightly backwards to absorb the contact created by Johnson’s leaning leap without fouling. Because Howard got up so high so quickly, his chest was above Johnson’s shoulder when the two collided, sapping all of Johnson’s momentum to the rim and forcing him to concede a meek attempt that didn’t even reach the backboard through Howard’s outstretched arms.
A quick pause: It’s worth noting that Howard did not defend the Kings' center and best player, DeMarcus Cousins, which left Howard free to roam a bit more for plays like these. Such is the luxury of having Howard and Pau Gasol, a solid one-on-one defender in his own right, on the same frontline.
Back to the action ... As Johnson’s shot fell harmlessly to the ground, Kobe Bryant swooped in to pick up the loose ball and took off the other direction on a one-man fastbreak. Here’s where things got nutty: Dwight Howard, the guy who made the big defensive play, beat Bryant down court.
When it comes to rim runs, Howard is second to none. He cruised past Kings defenders with long strides and planted himself a few feet from the rim as Bryant raced up court. Bryant attacked the rim but missed the contested layup. That’s where the play would usually end for the Lakers, with Bryant complaining about a missed foul call and their opponents headed the other way. But instead Howard was right there to grab the miss and got fouled by Robinson, a speedy big man in his own right but no match for Howard’s strength in the paint once No. 12 had position.
Howard missed both free throws, but the fact that he was at the line at all makes a point. In seven seconds he made two plays that no one else in the league makes as consistently as he does, though others -- notably Joakim Noah and (gulp) LeBron James -- come close. In seven seconds he erased a shot at the rim -- that most precious scoring opportunity -- for the other team and created one for his own.