At a time when the Lakers haven’t had Kobe Bryant in the lineup, Dwight Howard painted a pretty picture on what the franchise could look like should he resign with the Lakers this offseason.
The Lakers’ 113-102 victory Sunday over the Sacramento Kings featured so many elements that featured Howard at his best. Howard’s 12 points may have featured zero second-half attempts, but he didn’t allow that to derail his engagement level. Instead, Howard took advantage of the increased double teams by setting up teammates that led to a balanced offense in Antawn Jamison (27 points), Metta World Peace (22 points), Steve Nash (19 points), Steve Blake (16 points) and Earl Clark. Howard tied a carer-high by grabbing at least 12 rebounds in 14 consecutive games, a distinction he also accomplished during the 2010-11 season from Jan. 21 to Feb. 13 with the Orlando Magic. Howard’s five blocks also showed that he played a large anchor in keeping the team organized defensively.
Don’t think this will suddenly go away whenever Bryant and Pau Gasol return to the lineup with their respective left ankle and right foot injuries. Howard showed his presence mostly rooted in one important variable.
“I’ve been in better shape. The better shape I’m in, I can be more active on both ends,” Howard said. “This is good for our team. I don’t think I’m all the way there yet. But I’m going to continue to run after practice and get a lot of work in and make sure I eat the right foods.”
Ever since the NBA All-Star break, Howard has stripped away candy from his daily diet. But that’s just one of many nuances Howard has tackled this season. Howard’s performance happened hours after reflecting on what Bryant’s uncompromising work ethic has done for his development.
“It’s not all about just how you approach games,” Howard said. “It’s how you approach practice, time after practice and the work you put in on the days off. That’s what the guys on the team see and they feed off of it.
The Lakers sure fed off of Howard against the Kings.
Howard showed more purpose in setting screens for teammates, which opened up the floor. Howard took ownership on the glass and on defense, allowing the Lakers to play at a faster offensive pace after a Kings’ missed shot. Each of Howard’s blocks prompted the 18.997 at Staples Center to cheer and for the Lakers’ center to dance.
“He had fun. That’s what we need,” Lakers forward Antawn Jamison said. “We feed off his energy. When he’s out there blocking shots and doing his little strut, I’ll take that.”
The journey remains far from over.
Howard reported continuous pain in the torn labrum in his right shoulder after taking a few extra hits in the Lakers’ win Friday over Indiana. He’s still trying to show consistency on his free throw shooting, hitting only 4 of 10 at the line against Sacramento. But Howard’s found a comfortable place.
“I don’t think he has any conditioning issues right now,” Lakers guard Steve Blake said. “He’s changing the games for us. Both offensively with the way he’s rolling to the basket on pick and rolls and playing in the post with willing to pass it out when he gets doubled. Defensively, what can you say, I love having him back there. Hes’ going to contest every shot and make it difficult on him. As long as we continue to help him when he goes over, it’s going to be huge.”
Not that it was easy.
“It’s pretty tough,” Howard said. “I kept telling myself I’ll fight through this and fight throught the injuries and the pain and conditioning and remember what our goal is.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org