The Los Angeles Lakers came out of the All-Star break winning three of their first four games (finally falling to the Denver Nuggets in the second of back-to-back meetings this past Monday), and seem to be finally playing as a cohesive unit.
Dwight Howard has been a huge part of this recent wave of success, averaging 16.8 points, 13.8 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.3 assists and one steal per game during the four-game stretch.
If the Lakers are going to ascend the standings in the Western Conference and make a run into the postseason, they’ll need D12 to continue this excellent play.
At 28-30, L.A. is currently sitting in ninth place out West, and is within striking distance of both the Utah Jazz (31-27) and Houston Rockets (31-28) for one of the conference’s coveted playoff positions.
Golden State (33-25) is also a candidate to drop out. The Warriors have been on a major cold streak lately. There's still plenty of games left to be played, and L.A. could wind up with a No. 6 seed (or possibly better) when all is said and done.
Remaining healthy is going to be the key for Howard, as the big man is still recovering from a surgery on a herniated disk in his back that took place approximately 10 months ago.
According to Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times, the star center is in “good shape for a basketball player,” but desires to be in “Superman shape.”
In order to accomplish this goal, Howard has reportedly (per Bolch) cut back on candy, embraced acupuncture and worked on his general conditioning outside of practice.
It’s clearly working, as the 27-year-old has drastically improved his play since before All-Star Weekend.
Should D12 stay committed to his body and game, the sky is the limit for the Lakers.
If Howard, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are all locked in and healthy in time for the playoffs—and the team has a good enough record to grab one of the eight seeds—this is going to be one of the more dangerous teams in the league.
Howard is a bona fide superstar that could completely alter a series or two against the best in the Western Conference, and no one is going to want to play L.A. if the big man is rejuvenated.