With Dwight Howard putting forth dominant performances in two of the past three games for the Los Angeles Lakers, it seems like he's finally proving that he'll be able to take over the team once Kobe Bryant decides to retire.
The Los Angeles Lakers scored their biggest road win of the season with a 99-93 victory over the Indiana Pacers—all while Kobe Bryant sat idly, yet wholeheartedly involved in the final three quarters.
Bryant's balky, swollen ankle allowed him to get through the first quarter, giving him the opportunity to show his teammates how to play through pain.
With Bryant out, it was up to the rest of the Lakers to put together a total team effort to pull off the win, and they would need somebody to take control of the game.
Offensively, the team pretty much shared the load. Between Steve Blake and Steve Nash, the offense was able to thrive, with each player doing his part to space the floor between shooters, who smoothly fed into Dwight Howard and vice versa.
However, on the defensive front all the credit has to be given to Howard.
He was able to step up and completely shut down Roy Hibbert, switch off and deal with David West and do his best to corral the little dudes running around the paint all game long.
While George Hill was able to finish the game with 27 points, he was mostly taking three-pointers and scoring with floaters. He and Paul George were a huge portion of Indiana's 38 points in the paint, but Howard's help defense was mostly on point.
Howard was able to finish the game with 20 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks, aside from roaming the paint with a scowl and throwing a few hard fouls to driving guards.
On the one hand, it showed that Howard is still capable of playing the same game he did when he was with the Orlando Magic, but it also showed that his quickness when helping out on defense—which was often with Nash guarding Hill—still needed a bit of work.
Nonetheless, this was a Howard-led victory, a rare occurrence so far this season.
It's the second time in three games that Howard has taken the team on his back and brought a victory along the way.
The first time was his huge 39-point, 16-rebound game over the Magic in a point-proving victory against his old team.
A ton of his scoring was thanks to Jacque Vaughn dedicating the game to a bit of a Hack-a-Howard routine, but his defense and rebounding was completely legitimate.
After seeing those two performances, perhaps Bryant should go ahead and take a few games off. It could be a blessing in disguise for the Lakers.
Silver Lining: We can get a peek into the future of a team led by Dwight Howard.— Lakers Nation (@LakersNation) March 14, 2013
As Howard dealt with bodily restrictions all year long—from the recovering back to the torn labrum—he's hardly had time to work on the mental aspect of his game. One of his main jobs is preparing to become the next leader of the Los Angeles Lakers.
His first four months with Los Angeles were spent doing his best to fit in while getting back in shape, but he should have been learning how to stick out as one of the main contributors to the team.
The Lakers are planning on a future around Howard, and the past few games have shown that he's not only capable of making these plans work out, but also that Bryant is on the same page with the organization, even helping Howard a bit as well.
Kobe Bryant is drawing stuff up for Dwight on the bench— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 15, 2013
Kobe Bryant giving more instruction to Dwight after he picks up a foul— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 16, 2013
Kobe has done everything possible to keep his relationship with the new big man in calm waters, and for the most part they've succeeded. Dust-ups may have happened, but Kobe's ability to earn a sixth championship relies powerfully on how well he fits together with Howard, so he's making things work.
Taking a few games off would not only give him a chance to rest his inflated ankle, but it would surely be a vote of confidence in Howard.
Bryant so rarely takes a game off that holding himself out of the next game or two would simultaneously tell Howard that he is trusted to bring the wins home. That would mean a healthier Bryant and an ego-boost for Howard; a win-win.
It's still a long way off, and we've only seen a glimpse of Howard as the team's leader, but the future past Bryant's retirement is starting to clear up a bit, and it looks plenty bright.