Howard has mostly played an effective role off the bench this season, averaging 7.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, but head coach Frank Vogel experimented with his usage late in the Western Conference Finals.
The 34-year-old big man started Games 4 and 5 against the Denver Nuggets, combining for 21 points, 20 rebounds and two blocks while registering as a plus-19 in the two victories.
According to Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic, Howard will mostly guard Miami star Bam Adebayo.
He'll certainly have his work cut out for him.
Adebayo has been one of Miami's most pivotal players this postseason, averaging 18.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 15 contests. He's also 11 years younger than Howard and displays the type of agility most All-Stars struggle to contain.
Yet the Lakers' lack of depth at center doesn't give the club too many options. Aside from Howard, Los Angeles can use JaVale McGee, Markieff Morris and Anthony Davis at the 5. Keeping Davis away from Adebayo may afford him more space to operate early on.
If nothing else, Howard's start is a remarkable bookend to the veteran's Lakers career. He originally joined L.A. via trade in 2012 and left as a free agent one season later.
Now at the tail end of his career, the five-time All-NBA first-team honoree who signed a non-guaranteed contract with the Lakers earlier this year has established himself as a go-to option for Vogel and will have a chance to start in the Finals for the first time since leading the Orlando Magic there in 2008-09.
That team would go on to fall in five games to Kobe Bryant's Lakers.