Through the first half of the NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers were completely unable to meld the unique talents of their newly acquired star players and were well on their way to a disastrous season.
However, the Lakers have pulled off a near miracle with the pure talent and determination of Kobe Bryant literally dragging the rest of the team closer to earning a spot in the playoffs. Although Bryant is still one of the best players in the league, he couldn't do it all on his own—finally, it appears that Superman has returned to L.A. to help establish this team as a legitimate threat in the West.
Riddled with injury over the last several months, Dwight Howard rarely showed the ability to inflict his will on the game as he had in Orlando. The bright lights of L.A. seemed to be a little too much for Howard—he found himself continually butting heads with teammates, working his way into the headlines for all the wrong reasons and often appearing as a shell of his former self on the court.
After the All-Star Game, the Dwight Howard the league had known for years began to return to the court, and he quickly re-emerged as the dominating presence that made him so unstoppable in the past. He appeared to be more comfortable with his role on the team, focusing on rebounding and securing the paint with his defensive prowess.
Over the last 10 games, Howard has averaged 15.5 points on 55.4 percent shooting, 14.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 2.6 blocks while showing a consistent commitment to maintaining a high level of intensity on defense.
He is not only producing across all statistics, but he is utilizing all of his skills to create second shot attempts as well as using his size and positioning to create open looks for his teammates.
According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com, Howard has been forced to grow and learn a lot about himself over the last few months—but, he is beginning to embrace his situation and even his tough-loving teammate Kobe Bryant. His game is beginning to reflect this growth through his ability to relax on the court and allow his strong personality to be a part of the evolving Lakers team.
Against his former team and in the city where he first stepped into that phone booth so many years ago, Howard exploded against the Orlando Magic with one of his strongest performances of the season. He scored 39 points on 7-of-13 shooting with a lot of help from the 25-of-39 free throws he made during his 38 minutes of court time.
Howard not only produced offensively, but he filled up the stat lines across the board with 16 rebounds, two assists, one steal and three blocks. He dominated in the paint, controlled the glass and made his presence known on both ends of the floor.
The Orlando Magic were unable to slow Howard down, even after resorting to the Hack-A-Dwight method, as Howard made 16-of-20 free throws in the second half of the game.
Although this particular performance was against a less than competitive opponent, it is simply the exclamation mark on what has already been a great return to form for Howard over the last few weeks. He has finally found his role within the Lakers organization and appears to be fully embracing the championship or bust mentality of future Hall of Fame teammate Kobe Bryant.
The Los Angeles Lakers are strongly trending in the right direction with their recent jump into the eighth seed in the West—no team would be wise to overlook this storied franchise should they secure their spot in the playoffs.
It may finally be time for the Lakers to truly welcome the long-awaited Superman to the city of Los Angeles, while the superstar duo of Howard and Bryant bring them along for the ride of their lives to the NBA postseason.