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NBA playoffs: Dwight Howard gives Lakers a Game 1 jolt

The last time we saw the Los Angeles Lakers, nearly a week ago when they were finishing off the small-ball Houston Rockets in the second round of the playoffs, centers Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee had been relegated to socially distant cheerleaders on the bench. An important role in a mostly empty, fanless arena, although not what a future Hall of Famer and a two-time NBA champion were accustomed to.

But this was exactly what Howard had promised the Lakers he was up for this season, when they took him back into the organization after his ill-fated 2012-13 stint left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

In meeting after meeting with Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, coaches Frank Vogel and Jason Kidd and teammates LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo, Howard assured them he would do whatever the team needed this season. To prove it, he came up with the idea of a non-guaranteed contract that would give the Lakers the ability to cut bait at any time, thereby holding him accountable for his play and actions.4

“It was about Dwight proving to himself he was ready for this role,” Charles Briscoe, Howard’s agent, said. “He’d lost pretty much everything. He felt like if he wanted to get anything back, he needed to start from the bottom and work his way back.”

In this Western Conference finals matchup against the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers were pretty sure they were going to need Howard to help defend All-NBA center Nikola Jokic.

They’d be happy if he could give them a physical presence off the bench, maybe draw a few fouls on Jokic and buy some time at center so Davis could play his preferred position of power forward.

On Friday night, in a 126-114 win over Denver in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, the Lakers got a whole lot more from Howard than they could have expected.

From the moment Howard came bounding off the bench with 10 minutes left in the second quarter, he changed the dynamic of the game. He started wrestling with Jokic inside as they battled for post position. Howard cut back door for alley-oops, drove hard to the basket, blocked two shots, created two steals and drew four fouls in his first seven minutes.

“I had a chance to get there once and always promised myself if I had a chance to get back there, I’d give my teammates everything I got and lay it all out on the line,” said Howard, who lost in his only NBA Finals appearance in 2009 with the Orlando Magic.nfl cheap nike jerseys

Perhaps most importantly, Howard caused Jokic, Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap to pick up their third personal fouls and take a seat before halftime. Although the Lakers did not extend their lead while those three key Nuggets were out, getting those players in foul trouble seemed to knock them out of stride.