On a night when Russell Westbrook came out of his funk, when Kris Humphries and Serge Ibaka dominated the defensive stat lines and when the Memphis Grizzlies pulled off the upset against the Miami Heat, Howard stole the show.
It would be easy for us to attribute his headline-grabbing performance to a lowly Kings team, but make no mistake: This is a Lakers team in turmoil, a team being forced to play offense on the fly as they were unsure of how the need for another coaching change would eventually pan out.
Source: Mike D'Antoni will be the next coach of the Lakers. Not Phil Jackson.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) November 12, 2012
So when I say that Howard's efforts against Sacramento weren't only colossal, but vital to his team's psychological survival, you need to believe me.
Stat line: 23 points, 18 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks on 57 percent shooting.
This was not your typical, run-of-the-mill matchup against the Kings.
Yes, Sacramento remains an inferior opponent, but the Lakers needed this win.
Not only did a victory ensure they won back-to-back games for the first time this season, but it came in the face of adversity, or rather, the chaotic mess that was the Los Angeles coaching search.
Howard is no stranger to trial and tribulations, but this was different. He is in a city he pined for, playing for one of the teams he dreamed of, and yet he found his squad playing subpar basketball to start the season.
So he took over. On both ends of the floor.
Not only did Howard choose his spots carefully when attempting to score on offense, but he dished out three dimes as well while committing just two turnovers. That's well below the 3.3 he was averaging per game.
His display on the defensive side of the ball was nothing less than dominant, either. Sure, he grabbed 18 rebounds—six of which were offensive, by the way—but he was changing shots constantly, even more than the two blocks he had would suggest.
Yes, both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol came up huge as well, but this game, this win belonged to Howard.
With this performance, he finally became a true member of the Lakers; he finally demonstrated—all at once—not just why Los Angeles brought him in, but why there's still plenty of reasons to believe in this team.
Who was the NBA's top performer Sunday night?
I don't care that the Kings were without DeMarcus Cousins, and I certainly don't care that Sacramento continues to be in dire straights as a franchise.
The simple fact is, the Lakers needed this game. They needed to prove they could dismantle inferior foes and Howard needed to prove he could lead this team of numerous prized superstars when called upon.
Sunday night, Howard delivered. He helped the team inch closer to .500 and propelled the Lakers to victory over a Kings team that could have destroyed their fragile psyche and reeling dynamic.
And most importantly, he scored and defended Los Angeles' way toward a new beginning.
One that began before Mike D'Antoni was even hired.