Prior to the tip-off of Sunday night's game, much of the hype was surrounding Dwight Howard's debut with the Lakers—the re-commencement of a tradition of great big men who have played for the organization—and how the Lakers were now championship contenders in the wake of his acquisition. So Sunday night, prior to tip-off, Dwight Howard made the traditional team jog out of the Staples Center tunnel.
In a prank reserved for the likes of rookies, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol held up the rest of the team in the tunnel and allowed Dwight Howard to run out by himself, drawing that familiar smile and laugh from a center whose smile and laugh were virtually made for Hollywood.
Dwight Howard would have his teammates behind him the rest of the way as they faced the Sacramento Kings though. Despite another Lakers preseason loss, the much-vaunted starting five looked virtually unstoppable on offense. Howard's physical presence is awe-inspiring enough, but his athleticism and ability to cover airspace with his enormous wingspan and freakish leaping ability were on full display Sunday night.
The majority of the Lakers offense looked like setpieces which employed Howard's size to the fullest extent. The half-court sets involved clearing airspace for a Howard lob, dumping the ball into Howard on a post mismatch and using the throngs of defenders swayed inward by the threat of Howard to give wide-open looks to the likes of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace.
"It was pretty effortless for us," said Kobe Bryant in a post-game interview with TWC Sportsnet. Bryant had 21 points on 6-12 shooting. The Lakers' unselfishness was evident as four out of the five starters finished in double-figures on 55 percent shooting.
Pau Gasol matched his teammate's sentiments, adding that "there's more space when [Howard is] out there" as a result of Howard's presence drawing multiple defenders down in the paint. Gasol, who finished with 14 points on 5-8 shooting, was a prime beneficiary of Howard's presence on offense.
It was a recurring theme throughout the starting five's performance on offense, as each player's strengths created easy baskets for the other. Kobe Bryant showed flashes of the old symbiotic relationship he had developed playing alongside Shaquille O'Neal, as Kobe crashing to the paint opened up opportunities for Howard and Howard's presence in the paint opened up the baseline or driving lanes for Bryant.
With pieces like Howard, Gasol and Bryant (not to mention Steve Nash running the offense from the top), the possibilities on offense are mesmerizing. It will take the type of unselfish play displayed through stretches on Sunday for the Lakers offense to run at an optimal clip. The theoretical questions of egos, Kobe vs. Nash, and the bench will be answered as the season progresses, but one thing remains true: as long as the Lakers starters jog out of the tunnel together for the rest of the season, a championship run looks very likely.