In a rare occurrence since joining the Los Angeles Lakers, Dwight Howard displayed signs of dominance against the Cleveland Cavaliers. This outing leads to a confirmation of a belief that analysts everyone have begun to agree upon.
The Los Angeles Lakers don't need a happy Howard. They need the vintage D-12.
Matched up against an injury-depleted Cavaliers frontcourt, Howard went off for 22 points and 14 rebounds on 9-of-11 shooting. This continues a recent five-game stretch in which Howard has displayed his previous signs of dominance.
Including the previously alluded to Cleveland performance, Howard is averaging 17.0 points, 16.6 rebounds and 3.0 blocks over the past five games.
This is the type of production the NBA has come to expect from D-12. Unfortunately, these numbers have come rather inconsistently since Howard was traded to the Lakers.
Many have speculated that this is a result of Howard not fully recovering from offseason back surgery (via ESPN Los Angeles).
More recently, Howard suffered what was believed to be a torn labrum in his right shoulder (via ESPN Los Angeles). Fortunately, Howard returned sooner than expected and proved to be healthier than believed (via ESPN Los Angeles).
It's now time that he does more than return to the lineup. He must become the player he used to be.
If Howard is unable to, the Lakers' postseason dreams will be lost.
Can the Los Angeles Lakers win without an elite defense?
Interior Dominance: Defense
Dwight Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner. He won those awards in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Had he not gone down with a back injury with 10 games remaining in 2011-12, the numbers suggest he could have won it again last season.
Unfortunately, Howard has not yet reprised his role as an elite defensive stopper with the Lakers. Instead, he has been the best defensive player on the 26th-ranked scoring defense.
In other words, he hasn't served his purpose. Even if that isn't all on Howard, the results must improve.
Even if that means straying from head coach Mike D'Antoni's approach.
Howard must be vocal on defense and force his teammates to follow his lead. This starts with the point guard, whether it be Steve Nash or a reserve.
From there, Howard can make sure that he and his teammates are in position to dominate. If they do just that, the results will display such an improvement in approach.
If they fail to, however, the Lakers will continue to disappoint.
Interior Dominance: Offense
The most common misconception about Dwight Howard is that he is short of elite on the offensive end of the floor. Although this is true by traditional standards, D-12 is a modern-day center.
And a good one at that—he's led all centers in scoring in three of the past four seasons.
This is not to say that Howard would be elite in comparison to the centers of a decade ago, as he wouldn't. Not offensively speaking, at least.
What it acknowledges, however, is that Howard is as good as they come by today's standards. He's an elite pick-and-roll finisher and has improved his hook shot significantly.
The question is, where has Howard's offensive aggression gone?
Thus far in 2012-13, Howard is averaging 17.4 points on 57.7 percent shooting. He's also attempting just 10.7 field goal attempts, which is a full 2.7 attempts fewer than a year ago.
By the numbers, Howard would be averaging 19.0 points if he was attempting the same amount of shots.
The key is not the number of points he scores as much as it is the aggression he displays. Howard should be putting up 25 a night, but instead settles for the shots as they come instead of demanding the rock.
Between his 3.7 offensive rebounds per game and dominant pick-and-roll skills, Howard should be scoring at that rate. More importantly, he should be creating a "Kobe-and-Shaq" type of dynamic.
There's no reason Howard can't compete with Kobe Bryant for the team lead in points per game.
Become the Anchor
Kobe Bryant is going to continue to shoot at a high rate and that should not change. Mike D'Antoni will run this team with an emphasis on offense and that will not change.
Regardless of these acknowledged facts, Dwight Howard must become the anchor of this team.
Thus far in 2012-13, Howard is averaging his lowest point per game average since 2006. He's grabbing his least defensive rebounds since 2007.
He's attempting his fewest field-goal attempts since 2010.
If the Lakers are to achieve success, Howard must become the aggressor. He must be the player who anchors the defense and demands the ball on offense.
The Lakers have historically found their greatest success by going inside and working out to the perimeter. Doing the opposite has led to a record of 16-21.
If the coach isn't going to change his ways, it's on the center to make it happen.
Furthermore, Howard cannot allow the opposition to average 43.6 points in the paint per game. That ranks 28th in the NBA and just shouldn't be transpiring.
For perspective, Howard's less talented 2011-12 Orlando Magic ranked fifth in the NBA in said category.
If Howard is able to step up and become the aggressor, the Lakers will win games. If he fails to do so, the Lake Show will have an unhappy ending.
The ball is in D-12's court. It's time he takes the season onto his shoulders and carry the Lakers to the postseason.