The Los Angeles Lakers saw a few familiar faces throughout their seven-game game road trip, including two when facing the Philadelphia 76ers.
Danny Green, who was part of the starting five that led L.A. to the title victory last season, drained four 3-pointers against his former team in a narrow 107-106 victory. Meanwhile, Dwight Howard came off the bench and registered four rebounds and one block in seven minutes as Philadelphia dealt the defending NBA champions their first road loss this year.
Howard’s reunion with the Lakers turned out to be a heartwarming subplot of last season. He signed a non-guaranteed contract after DeMarcus Cousins suffered a season-ending knee injury before the start of the 2019-20 campaign.
Howard was returning to L.A. six years after leaving as a free agent following a disappointing debut season defined by a feud with Kobe Bryant. And the three-time defensive player of the year redeemed himself, accepting a reduced role even though he found himself starting games on the bench for the first time in his career.
“It’s one of the more rewarding player-coach relationships that I’ve been a part of,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel reflected. “Obviously Dwight was in a low point in his career and we gave him an opportunity if he bought into playing a role different than any role he’d ever played before.”
Despite falling behind JaVale McGee in the team’s hierarchy, Howard put up better numbers averaging 7.5 points and 7.3 rebounds last season. He claimed a starting spot toward the end of the playoffs, filling a major role in the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets.
Even though Howard left L.A. again in the offseason, he did so on good terms this time — and as an NBA champion, no less. Vogel, known for his supporting nature when interacting with players, said that he developed a strong bond with the center and gave him major credit for last season’s success.
“To see him buy into what we were presenting to him and for him to reward us with really quality play but also a sacrificial approach — there were some playoff series he didn’t play — and the energy that he maintained was just a feel-good part of our season last year,” Vogel said.
“He was a great part of our championship. My relationship with him over that full season is one of the more rewarding player-coach relationships of my career.”
Vogel ‘understands restrictions’ even though he couldn’t visit family in Philadelphia
Due to coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions, Vogel — a New Jersey native — has not been able to see his family since the last time the Lakers visited Philadelphia in 2020.
“Last time I saw them was last time we were here, and that was just for a quick dinner,” Vogel said. “It’s something that you hope to be able to do but we all understand the restrictions.
“We’re essentially still in a traveling bubble. We have to basically stay around ourselves only and just minimize any potential exposure risks. That’s just the nature of this season. It’s difficult, but everybody gets it.”
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