Los Angeles Lakers: How Each Pacific Division Team Can Try to Stop Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard has always been clear on one thing throughout this offseason. He wanted out of Orlando.
The former Magic big man followed in the footsteps of another great center by forcing the team's hand, which eventually landed him in Los Angeles.
The similarities to Shaq's departure from Orlando are uncanny. When all was said and done, both had left the smaller market for the glitz and glamour that comes with playing for the Lakers. What remains to be seen, though, is whether or not Howard's arrival will translate into championships the way Shaq's did.
"Superman" couldn't have asked for a better situation. The Lakers already had Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. With the addition of Howard, along with the signing of Steve Nash, L.A. seems poised to make a run for at least the next couple years.
First thing's first, though. The Lakers, as all sports teams do, will have progressive goals as the season wears on. Their first goal will be winning a Pacific Division that is now by far the weakest of the three in the West.
Ahead we'll break down each team in the division's chance at attempting to stop Howard. We'll begin with the team that has the least chance, and end with the one that has the best.
I'm ranking these teams based on a couple factors. The most important one is who does each team have to match up with Howard one-on-one. Now that he's a Laker, Howard will see fewer double teams because he's not the first option on offense.
With Kobe and Gasol, the Lakers have two well-rounded offensive players. Contrast that to Howard, whose versatility with the ball in his hands is limited at best.
The other factor in ranking the Lakers' four division rivals is their overall defensive game plan and ability. Thankfully for the Lakers, none of these teams are especially known for their defensive prowess.
We start with the Phoenix Suns. Howard will most often matchup against his former backup in Orlando, Marcin Gortat.
Now you would think Gortat would have an immediate advantage over other players in defending Dwight Howard because he was his teammate for parts of four seasons. That only gets you so far, however.
Howard outweighs Gortat by almost 30 pounds, and his ability to finish around the basket is something the "Polish Hammer" won't be able to stop.
Combine that with the Suns' 21st ranked defense of a year ago. That organization's total lack of attention to their own end of the court for the better part of a decade now will allow Howard and the Lakers to dominate them inside.
Golden State Warriors
Along with Phoenix, the Golden State Warriors are another perennially bad defensive team. The 101.2 PPG the Warriors allowed in 2011-12 was good for third worst in the league.
Golden State knew they needed to improve defensively when they traded for Andrew Bogut in March. In acquiring the Australian 7-footer, the Warriors got someone only two years removed from his breakout 2009-2010 season when he finished second in the league in blocks.
The problem is Bogut missed all but 12 games last season. He's developed a reputation for being injury prone.
Anytime a big man is coming off of a broken ankle, regaining balance and mobility takes time. Early season matchups should see better numbers for Howard as Bogut tries to get back in the swing of things.
When healthy, Andrew Bogut is a pretty good defender and one of the better shot blockers in the league. He's got an inch on Dwight and their weights are basically identical.
Although his acquisition certainly bolstered the Warriors' interior defense, head coach Mark Jackson will have his hands full trying to keep Bogut out of foul trouble when they play the Lakers. Remember, this franchise has been founded on offense for 20 years now.
The No. 5 overall pick out of Kentucky in 2010, Cousins is the only player in the division that can match up physically as well as athletically with Dwight Howard. Demarcus' second season saw averages of 18.1 PPG and 11.0 RPG. Compare those to Howard's in his second year; 15.8 PPG and 12.5 RPG.
The similarities between the two don't stop there. Both posses raw, natural ability but lack polish and touch around the net.
The issue with Cousins isn't talent. It's discipline. He gets into foul trouble early way too often.
This is a matchup to watch for, because Cousins fired a little jab at Howard after the trade was announced. Per IAMAGM.com:
When reports that the Dwight Howard trade to the Lakers was finalized, DeMarcus Cousins responded by being DeMarcus Cousins. Using his instagram account under the username "boogiecousins", the Kings young big man posted a photo of himself dunking on Howard. Cousins was known to have a nasty rivalry with Andrew Bynum, so Dwight Howard should help fill that role immediately next year.
If Cousins can continue to develop, this should be the beginning of an awesome rivalry between these two.
Los Angeles Clippers
It should come as no surprise that I think the Los Angeles Clippers have the best chance at stopping Howard.
They finished only a game behind the Lakers last year and were the only other winning team in the division. They also finished a respectable 13th in team defense.
That finally make this rivalry competitive. The return of Lamar Odom to the L.A. team he started his career with only adds to the intrigue as well.
DeAndre Jordan established himself last year as a defensive force. At 6-foot-11, 265 pounds, Jordan's built to withstand the punishment handed out when guarding Dwight Howard down low.
The overwhelming reason I picked the Clippers was because they're the only playoff-caliber team of the four we've talked about. They have legitimate superstars on their roster. More than anything, they're flying under the radar because Howard and the Lakers are getting all the attention.
The most likely defense you'll see these teams and others employ against Howard is forcing him to make free throws. Until he improves that area of his game drastically, he will remain somewhat of an offensive liability.
When the dust settles on the 2012-13 regular season, I don't see the Lakers having much trouble winning the Pacific. But will Dwight Howard be happy as the third choice on offense all season?
Only time will tell as to whether another former Orlando Magic center brings a title to L.A.