The Los Angeles Lakers have been evolving as a team throughout the season, leading to sometimes rapid changes in players’ roles — as Dwight Howard has experienced in recent weeks.
Howard started in his last four games before the late December win over the Houston Rockets, which he spent on the bench. He would then notch another start, sit out two games, and eventually register his superb cameo in the win over the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 4.
However, Howard understands he needs to play his part in the team’s pursuit of another title — even if it occasionally means playing no part at all, at least on the court.
“No, no, no, no. I don’t want to do anything to agitate or make him feel like I’m trying to get attention,” Howard said, asked whether he sometimes needs to remind head coach Frank Vogel of his readiness to play.
“But when I do get my number called in the game, I do want to let it be known that I’m still on the team and I can provide a level of energy and sustain it for however long is needed.”
The Lakers’ evolution led to LeBron James starting games at center for the first time in his career. The coaching staff decided to deploy a centerless lineup for tip-off in that Dec. 28 game against the Rockets — Howard’s aforementioned DNP, sandwiched between two starts.
“There wasn’t really a conversation,” the 36-year-old center recalled. “It was just coming into the game and saying that LeBron was gonna start.
“So it’s kind of like you got to stay strong mentally because things can change from night in and night out. Can’t complain, especially out loud. If you feel a certain way, just do it away from everyone and always keep a smile on your face and whenever you get that opportunity, just play as hard as you can.
“It can be tough for anyone, I know DJ, for me and him, it’s kind of like a roller coast all season so we just got to provide some type of energy and synergy between myself and him making sure our level of energy is pretty high whether we’re on the floor, on the bench, in the locker room. Just try to maintain a level of focus because it can be tough and it is tough at times.”
But Howard understands that an NBA season is “a marathon, not a sprint,” requiring him to stay ready regardless if he’s given 10 or 30 minutes on the floor. The center points out the key to maintaining that mindset is remembering what’s the “ultimate goal” for L.A.
“I want a parade so if I could play 10 minutes, three minutes, however long I play, it’s just going out there and playing as hard as I can for those minutes and making an impact in any way I can,” Howard said.
Howard plans on working on his 3-point shooting to better fit into Lakers’ system
Howard acknowledges the Lakers have had success playing with their small-ball units. He emphasized its advantages, such as the extra floor spacing — explaining it unclogs the paint for James and Russell Westbrook’s drives.
Hence for the betterment of the team, the center said he’s willing to make some — quite drastic — adjustments to his game, accounting for L.A.’s plans to play small going forward.
“[M]aybe that means I have to turn into a stretch five, so I’m gonna be working on my perimeter game a little bit more so I can be a stretch five and hopefully that will do pretty good with the coaching staff, me working on my threes and just giving space to those guys so they can get to the basket,” he said.
Howard’s hard work seems to be paying off, as he’s made six of his eight 3-point attempts (75%) this season.
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