Why Dwight Howard's Early Return Boosts the Lakers Title Hopes

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer ISeptember 29, 2012

EL SEGUNDO, CA - AUGUST 10:  Dwight Howard (L) walks with General Manager Mitch Kupchak of the Los Angeles Lakers being introduced as the newest member of the Lakers at a news conference at the Toyota Sports Center on August 10, 2012 in El Segundo, California. The Lakers aquired Howard from Orlando Magic in a four-team trade. In addition Lakers wil receive Chris Duhon and Earl Clark from the Magic.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Most Los Angeles Lakers fans thought newly acquired center Dwight Howard would miss several weeks of the regular season recovering from back surgery. But according to Yahoo! Sports, Howard is aiming to return for the Oct. 30th season opener against the Dallas Mavericks.

In the article, Howard is said to have privately expressed that his back is right now at about 85 percent, but Lakers fans have to be 100 percent delighted at the prospects of seeing their new star-studded starting lineup together for the opening tip.

The Lakers have faced questions about chemistry and and how Steve Nash and Howard will fit with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, and it appears those answers will begin to surface much earlier than expected.

Chemistry may be the number one issue cited when dissecting the 2012-13 Lakers and their title hopes and a prolonged absence for Howard would have only increased the scrutiny.

However, an early return for Howard gives the Lakers an opportunity to work out any offensive and defensive kinks, and it also cements their status as Western Conference favorites.

Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant has already acknowledged that the Lakers have the NBA's best team on paper, but many people have held the opinion that they would still trail the Thunder in the regular season if Howard got a late start.

Of course it really doesn't matter how a team begins a season, but it doesn't hurt that the Lakers defense will get an early boost with Howard, even if it does take a little longer for the offense to mesh.

Defense, rebounding and blocking shots are what Howard does best. It should be easier for him to make an immediate impact for the Lakers in this category and set them up for success down the road.

Most people assume the Lakers offense will eventually be dominant with Nash and Bryant in the back court, but it's never mentioned how good the defense has the potential to be.

Bryant may no longer be an elite defender, but he is still one of the better defenders at his position, and the same can be said of small forward Metta World Peace.

Gasol has never received much attention for his defense, but he is fundamentally sound in the paint and his length will be a great complement to Howard's strength and quickness.

Getting a jump on the defensive end is very important for the Lakers because for all their potential on offense, the ability to get stops will be the key to a 2013 NBA Finals trip.

The Lakers started the 2011-12 season as one of the NBA's top defensive teams, but as the season wore on their inability to prevent penetration from the perimeter was consistently exposed.

Nash may not fare any better than Ramon Sessions or Derek Fisher when it comes to preventing the likes of Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker and Chris Paul from invading the lane, but it makes a big difference when Howard, rather than Andrew Bynum is the last line of defense.

Howard's mere presence will make opponents think twice before attacking the basket, and he may be  the only player in the NBA with the ability to dictate the flow of a game based solely on his defense.

The concerns about the Lakers chemistry will likely linger beyond their Oct. 30th home opener, but by the time those issues are worked out the Lakers should already be an elite defensive team.

Once the Lakers offense finally catches up to their defense a return to the Finals next season might not be too far behind.