Howard made his Lakers debut against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. In 33 minutes of action, Howard scored 19 points and was his usual self on the glass, collecting 12 rebounds (four of them on offense). But it was his play on defense that really looked promising.
In usual form, Howard was a presence in the paint, blocking four shots. Having a player like Howard in the post will help deter teams from attacking the basket. It will also cover up defensive deficiencies from perimeter players like Steve Nash, allowing them to play tight on defense because they know Dwight's defending the hoop.
Or, as we saw from Kobe Bryant on a couple occasions against the Kings, having Howard in the paint allows perimeter defenders to be more aggressive when attacking passing lanes, because the fear of getting beat is somewhat mitigated by having Howard at center.
But beyond what we knew he'd do in the paint—and also in deterring players from attacking the hoop—having D12 back had a reverberating effect throughout the game. In fact, it even helped the Lakers' transition defense, which is one of the team's weaknesses due to its aging players' inability to quickly and consistently get back on defense.
In the Lakers' first five preseason games without Howard in the lineup, the team gave up an average of 21.6 fast-break points per game. Against the Kings on Sunday, the Lakers only gave up 11 fast-break points and that's after allowing 28 fast-break points against the Kings on Friday.
It's certainly a small sample size and it could be an exception rather than the rule, but there is reason to believe it's a long-term thing that's directly related to Howard's return.
ESPN's J.A. Adande put out one theory as to why Howard will help prevent fast-break opportunities and it's probably not what you would think: it's Howard's poor free-throw shooting.
Because teams are so quick to foul him around the basket it stops the game and allows the Lakers to get set on defense. So while the Lakers will lose points with the numerous missed free throws from Howard, they also won't be giving up as many easy buckets at the other end when he's in.
Whatever the reason, having Howard on the floor makes a world of difference for this team. Everybody knew the Lakers wouldn't have problems scoring the basketball. The only real concern was whether or not this team could consistently stop its opponents. But with Howard in the mix, it doesn't seem like that will be a problem.