The Lakers don't need Howard anymore. Their defense has been absolutely remarkable, and if they continue to play like this, there is no reason why the Lakers won't be able to win the title.
First of all, the Lakers are holding opponents to just 37.7 percent from the field. This is an absolutely remarkable statistic considering the team has played against offensive powerhouses like the Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks.
The Bulls have MVP Derrick Rose on their team, who can be a scoring threat anytime during a game. The Knicks have a fast-paced offense and they averaged 106.5 points per game last season, which was good enough for second most in the NBA.
The Knicks were the biggest test for the Lakers, defensively, and it wasn't even close. The Knicks couldn't buy a basket. They only shot 31.3 percent from the field and they only scored 10 points in the fourth quarter.
Considering the Knicks have Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, the Knicks' struggle to get points last night was more of a testament to the Lakers defense rather than the Knicks offense. This notion is reiterated when one sees the Lakers have played consistently well defensively in their first four games.
Although they allowed 100 points in a loss at Sacramento on Dec. 26, the Lakers still held an energized Kings team to 46.7 percent from the field in their opening game.
This number is not that bad when looking at how many threes the Kings drained that night. The Kings drilled nine of their 18 three-pointers in that game. Threes can be stopped, but only to a certain extent. At the end of the day a player shooting a three must make the shot, especially if he's wide open.
When a team is hot one night, there isn't much a team can do about it. That's pretty much what happened in Sacramento. The game could have been a lot closer and the Lakers could've even won if the Kings weren't so hot from three-point land.
One may argue that a sample size of four games is too small and that their recent performance defensively can't be an indicator that they'll continue to play this way.
However, all signs point toward the Lakers continuing to play well defensively.
It seems like the Lakers are buying into Mike Brown's system quickly and have adjusted very well. Brown is a defensive-minded coach who stressed that the Lakers would be a "defensive-minded team" when he first got hired.
The second sign that points toward more defensive success is the way Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy and Metta World Peace have played.
McRoberts is averaging 6.2 rebounds per game and had three steals last night against New York. Murphy has also been a rebound machine with 8.5 boards per game.
And ever since a dismal performance on Christmas Day, World Peace has been a plus-23 on the floor. This basically means that when Metta has been on the floor in the last three games, the Lakers have outscored opponents by 23. This is not only a testament to his offense, but also defense.
And here's the scariest part of it all:
The Lakers have done all of this without Andrew Bynum, who returns New Year's Eve against Denver from his four-game suspension. Bynum is going to provide a physical presence down low with his size and strength. He'll not only be a threat offensively down low, he'll also be a rebound vacuum and a shot-blocking factor.
More importantly, he'll allow Pau Gasol to focus more on his finesse offensive capabilities. It seems like Gasol is more relaxed when he's taking outside jumpers rather than pounding the rock home.
What does this all mean?
The Lakers don't really need D12. It's true he could possibly put them over the top, but how much are they going to give up? Gasol and Bynum? No, that's way too much.
Obviously, Howard is a transcendent player, and if the deal is right the Lakers should do it. However, don't mortgage the future and break up team chemistry for Howard because sometimes things just aren't as good as they seem at first.