It seems as if every game in these playoffs a different member of the Los Angeles Lakers steps up as the “third star.” Against the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals it was Dwight Howard who had a major impact on both ends of the floor.
He finished with 13 points, two blocks, and two steals in the Lakers’ 126-114 win.
Howard played 16 minutes, more than he logged in the entire second round as the Houston Rockets presented a difficult matchup for him to thrive in. But despite the lack of playing time, Howard was determined to not let that affect him.
“I knew last series was going to be tough for us. During that time, basically me and JaVale had off, so during that timeframe, just tried to mentally prepare myself for what was coming up ahead,” he said.
“For myself, I said be prepared for whatever; five minutes, 10 minutes, one minute. However many minutes you play, just go out there and leave it all on the line.”
This mindset is something Howard has been prepping himself for since 2009 when he led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals where they would fall to the Lakers.
“I always promised myself if I had a chance to get back there, I’d give my teammates everything I’ve got. Lay it all out on the line and whatever happens after that, I just have to live with,” Howard said.
For Howard to play this important of a role for the Lakers following his first stint in Los Angeles is truly something no one could have ever predicted. Back then he and the legendary Kobe Bryant never quite got on the same page as the Lakers failed to reach expectations.
But this time around, Howard was channeling Bryant with his thoughts after Game 1.
“I just want to get out there and do what I can to help this team win,” Howard added. “Whatever coach asks me to do, whatever my teammates need me to do, I’ve got to do it. The job is not finished. We’ve got to say locked in.”
Howard maintained positive attitude despite reduced role
The mindset wasn’t something that Howard is saying now that he’s back in the rotation in the Western Conference Finals. His determination to be a positive presence has been a consistent message throughout the playoffs.
Howard played just five minutes in the entire series against the Rockets, but with Nikola Jokic, arguably the best center in the NBA leading the Nuggets, he is primed to play a bigger role.
“We did what was best for the team,” Howard said of the second round. “Me and JaVale always stay ready, we train as hard as anybody, and we know when we step on the floor we have one job to do, and that’s to dominate. That’s what we’re most looking forward to.”
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