For once, Dwight Howard finally looked like Superman.
Superman dominated the post. He intimidated the Boston opponents. Superman ran up and down the court with nearly full speed. He became the defensive anchor that earned him three league awards in the past four years. Superman ran pick-and-roll plays with Steve Nash with the same frequency and intensity Lakers fans cheered during the pre-game tribute for the late owner Jerry Buss.
Add it all up and the Lakers walked away with a 113-99 victory Wednesday over the Boston Celtics with Howard providing 24 points on 10 of 13 shooting and 12 rebounds.
“I just want to be effective,” Howard said. “I tried to be as effective as I can on both hands and be active and stay aggressive.”
So what changed?
The recent All-Star break afforded him a rare amount of rest for his sore body stemmed from 10-month-old back surgery and an aggravated labrum in his right shoulder. That four-day stretch also coincided with Howard working with the Lakers’ training staff on various conditioning drills to improve his explosiveness and timing.
“It’s been tough because of the injuries,” Howard said. “But we’re just going to try to bust it out. I’m going to try to get into the best shape I can. The better shape I’m in, the more active I can be.”
But it’s not just about effort. It’s about execution.
The Lakers spent plenty of time during Tuesday’s practice ironing out how Nash and Howard would play the pick-and-roll. Nash often lamented the lack of time together. Howard often griped about how they couldn’t read the opposing team’s defenses. The Lakers’ coaches wished Howard would show a stronger effort and will to overcome such variables.
So the two worked on the sets. Constantly.
“We talked coming out of the All-Star break that he and I have really got to find a way to be a tandem,” Nash said. “He has to find ways to free me up, and therefore I am going to find ways to free him up — and really become a team and a tandem together, put a lot of pressure on the defense and make the game easier for our teammates.”
Nash and Howard fulfilled just that.
Nash looked more comfortable looking for his shots off screens, resulting in 14 points on 6 of 7 shooting. Howard looked more comfortable setting those picks and rolling to the basket with force, enabling him to become the dominant center he showed in seasons past.
“We did a good job of Steve waiting on the screens and I was able to set good screens and was able to roll hard,” Howard said. “After setting a couple of hard screens, Steve was able to come off and hit some jump shots. That opened everything up. Once Steve hit some jump shots, it’s tough for guys. They have to make a decision. They either have to let Steve get hot as he continues to shoot the ball or they have to step up and allow me to get dunks.”
It’s not like Howard prefers this way to run the offense. Ideally, he’d receive more looks in the post than running so many pick-and-roll sets.
“Am I comfortable?” Howard repeated a reporter’s question. “Well, I have to do whatever is necessary for us to win.”
Howard did just that, setting the ideal template to replicate in games to come.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org