In Game 1 of one of the most highly anticipated clashes of the 2013 NBA playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Los Angeles Lakers by a score 91-79 to take a 1-0 series lead. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili played as if it was 2007.
Although the Lakers were unable to secure the victory, center Dwight Howard re-established his superstar status with his performance.
In 41 minutes, Howard finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds, an assist and two blocks on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor. He also held Tiago Splitter to 0-of-4 shooting and helped to limit Tim Duncan to a 6-of-15 outing.
While the supporting fire may have been insufficient, Howard displayed just how dominant a force he can be.
That only scratches the surface of how well Howard has begun to play with his back reaching full strength.
Although some will scoff at 20 points being superstar-caliber, the Lakers were down by 13 points entering the fourth quarter of play. Furthermore, the Lakers have finally begun to capitalize on their two-headed monster in the paint.
Howard and Gasol combined for 36 points, 31 rebounds and 28 field-goal attempts—a sign of what has become the Lakers offense.
Prior to the 2013 NBA All-Star break, there was reasonable doubt about whether or not Dwight Howard deserved to be an All-Star. There was also uncertainty about whether or not he had fully recovered from offseason back surgery.
Over the past two months, Howard has quieted those critics.
Since the All-Star break, Howard has posted averages of 18.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 1.2 steals on 57.8 percent shooting from the field. This enabled Howard to lead the NBA in rebounding and rank fifth in blocks.
Howard also finished the season with 48 double-doubles, which was second to David Lee of the Golden State Warriors for the league lead.
Furthermore, Howard was second amongst centers in both steals and field-goal percentage. He was fourth by position in scoring and sixth in offensive rebounding.
If that's not enough, Howard was the only player in the NBA to post season averages of at least 15.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks simultaneously (via Basketball-Reference).
How Quickly We Forget
It's rather astonishing how quickly we've forgotten just how dominant Dwight Howard has been during his rather brief career. Not only is he a dominant force on the defensive end, but D-12 has also been as dynamic as anyone offensively.
Since 2003-04, Howard is the only player in the NBA to average at least 16.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game in any individual season. In fact, he's done it six times (via Basketball-Reference).
On top of his statistical dominance, Howard is a seven-time All-Star and a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. He has led the NBA in rebounding in five separate seasons and blocks in two different seasons.
With five first-team All-NBA selections and one All-Defensive Second Team honor, it's fair to say that Howard is the most decorated big man of his generation.
If that's not enough, Howard led the Orlando Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals and the 2010 Eastern Conference finals. Although he's yet to win a title, Howard has proven capable of leading a franchise to postseason success.
Today, he reaffirmed his status as a franchise player. It's now on the Lakers to surround him with the necessary pieces to compete.