Have your hearts recovered from the Lakers’ head-scratching win against the Detroit Pistons on Super Bowl Sunday? While the Lakers continue to find ways to blow leads in the fourth quarter, the fact remains that they left the Motor City with a win. After all, that is where the team stands at this point of the season; leave the game with a W no matter how beautiful or downright ugly the game is.
What has been extremely apparent over the last three games is how crucial Dwight Howard’s presence on the court actually is. Of course, any casual fan will agree with this statement solely based on Howard’s resume. However, when it come to closing in on what and where he is most effective, these past three games would have definitely played out differently. Why? It comes down to defense.
Defense is and will continue to be the side of the floor that Howard has the ability to change the outcome of the game. Despite questioning his offensive positions and touches, it is on the defensive end where he can be dominant. The Lakers have built a habit of blowing early leads and not finishing strong. How do you reverse that trend? It starts and ends with defense.
Sunday’s game against Detroit provided example after example of why the Lakers need Howard in the lineup. In the first half on Sunday, Pau Gasol, who got the start for Howard, did an adequate job on the defensive end. For the most part, Gasol did a good job at protecting the rim in the first 24 minutes. Then came the second half.
Needless to say, the Piston’s Will Bynum had his way with the Lakers. Whether it was dribble penetration to kick it out to the perimeter or sling it to a cutter, Bynum took advantage of the Lakers’ dismal interior defense in the second half, eventually erasing a 18-point deficit.
Will Bynum collected 18 points and ten assists in 29 minutes. His playmaking skills and moves in the lane led the Pistons to earn 64 points in the paints. Detroit’s points in the paint accounted for 66 percent of their offense. That stat in itself is simply unacceptable, especially when you consider Detroit averages 45.8 points in the paint per game.
Dwight Howard’s health concern has quickly become less about his back recovery and more about the torn labrum in his shoulder. Since surgery to repair the damage seems very unlikely as it would take him out for the rest of the season, it is time for Dwight to adjust to playing through the pain, just as his teammate wearing the number 24 has done so well throughout his career. As Kevin Ding recently wrote:
“Even if your post moves have looked more like Kwame Brown’s than Hakeem Olajuwon’s, and even if you keep hurting that right shoulder by making the fundamentally poor basketball play of bringing the ball down low for guys to swipe and grab while under the basket, Bryant will still salute you if you’re playing in pain.
It’s part of the Kobe Code — punching the clock, finding a way, doing your job.”
Kobe Bryant added to the play through pain sentiment regarding Howard after he re-aggravated his shoulder injury in Phoenix:
“It’s one of those things when you get banged like that going up, you’re going to get that stinging sensation. That’s just how it’s going to be.”
Anyone familiar with Kobe Bryant’s career knows that his drive to play through pain is remarkable. Playing through countless injuries at a high level no less is a major factor in what separates Kobe from his peers in the NBA. Kobe suffered from a labrum tear in his shoulder during the 2003 playoffs and opted to play on. Of course, we must remember that despite similar injuries, Dwight and Kobe play different individual games and use their bodies in different fashions.
“Me and Kobe play two different positions. The position I play, I use a lot of force coming up — whether that’s going up for a dunk or a shot. Hook shots, all that stuff, is this motion right here. It’s a lot of that. Playing in the post is doing this a lot. All that stuff, you need your shoulder stable for it. It’s a little bit different than, I would say, a guard position. You’ve got guys 260-270 you’re holding off. You’ve got to be really strong in your shoulder and all that stuff.
Last week I wrote how Dwight Howard would benefit in taking a page from Kobe Bryant by evolving his game in order to produce the best result. Similarly, I believe that Howard must take yet another page from the Mamba by learning how to effectively play through the pain. Let’s be honest. To make a real push for a playoff spot, the Lakers will need that three-time defensive player of Dwight Howard, even if he’s not at 100 percent.
The Lakers travel to Brooklyn next, where All-Star Brook Lopez is having a career season. The Lakers took their first match in LA back in November 95-90. Lopez had a great game in that battle with 23 points and seven boards. However, the main reason why the Lakers came out victorious was due to limiting the Nets to 26 points in the paint, where they average 41.1 per game. Interior defense, protecting the rim and clogging the lane will be crucial in Brooklyn and in their upcoming games in Boston, Charlotte and Miami.
Losses are no longer a luxury as the Lakers must make up ground. On the road, it is typical for a team’s offense to get stagnate. When this occurs, that is when the team’s defense should get them back into the game. As we all know, defense wins championships, but it also closes games. That is what the Lakers need to remember, and that is why Dwight Howard is so important to this lineup.