Dwight Howard Makes His Debut, Lakers Still Lose

Darius Soriano —  October 22, 2012

PANIC.

I’m just kidding. Don’t panic. Yes, the Lakers lost again. And, yes, they now have as many wins this preseason as the number of points I’ve scored in the NBA. In going 0-6 so far, the team has shown strides but is still a ways away from being the team many think they can be.

This is a good thing considering we’re still a long ways away from when the Lakers will need to be that team. The goal is to be the best they can be in May and June so there’s good news in the fact that today is October 22nd. The work in progress continues but at least there is progress. And while it’s a bit concerning the Lakers starters closed the game and came from ahead to lose, it was always going to be a process with this team.

Now, for some observations from the game especially on Dwight Howard…

  • Howard looked healthy, but this shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s been practicing, full contact, for some time now and reports have had him doing things in practice that he’s been doing in games his entire career. That said, seeing that athleticism translate to the floor was great to see. It was also nice to see him take some shots, deliver some of his own, and not be any worse for the wear when the game was over. He played 33 minutes and while his conditioning did suffer by the end of the game, he looked pretty much like the physically imposing guy the Lakers traded for.
  • The rust in Howard’s game was evident, however. He lost the handle on a couple of back down moves. He got stripped of the ball on multiple occasions, both when he was diving to the rim and when he was set up as a passer at the pinch post. On a play where Kobe hit him with a pocket bounce pass out of a P&R, Dwight bobbled the ball before securing it and going up to finish. He made the basket and earned a trip to the line but the way he didn’t make a clean catch stood out to me more.
  • Dwight’s defensive activity — even with a couple of high stakes, late game plays where he didn’t help fast enough — was exactly what the Lakers have been missing on a consistent basis. It’s natural to compare Dwight to the man he’s replacing, and I’ll try not to do too much of that this season. Howard is simply in a different class in terms of his instincts on how to move around the floor, the ability to get from spot to spot, and in how he challenges shots to really alter them. In the first half alone Dwight hedged and contained a ball handler perfectly on a P&R set, rotated to a penetrating King and challenged the shot without fouling to force a miss, and even hedged out on a curl play where he stepped out to contest a jumper when his wing teammate couldn’t get around the screen. What stood out wasn’t just the ease and effort in which he did these things, it was the way he did them naturally. Simply put, Dwight has a tremendous aptitude for defense and last night, even in his first game back, it showed.
  • Things that need work: just because Dwight can catch lobs, doesn’t mean you have to throw them. The team had several exciting plays that made the highlights. Howard’s first basket was a fantastic high/low action between him and Pau. Kobe threw a “three flies up” moon ball out of a hand-off sequence that Dwight hammered home. Nash even got into the action with a sweet lob from the arc when Dwight walked his man up the lane line and then spun back-door. But, several of the Lakers’ 22 turnovers were on lobs to Dwight. Some were tipped away, some were off target, and some Dwight just couldn’t handle. The lob will be a weapon this year, but they went to it a bit too many times.
  • Nash still looks to be looking for the right mix of running P&R’s and getting the Lakers into their Princeton sets. I know it’s easy to blame Mike Brown every time Nash runs a standard set and he ends up just camping out around the arc but we should remember that Nash has the freedom to run what he wants. He can start possessions with a P&R, he can pull the ball back and run another if he wants. He’s Steve freaking Nash, no one is going to get mad at him. To my eyes, it actually looks like Nash is purposefully running a lot of traditional sets to help everyone (including himself) get acclimated to the new scheme. After all, Nash knows he can run a P&R and create a good shot but getting everyone on the same page in this new offense still has question marks. They need the extra reps.
  • There will be several jokes made about Kobe’s leaning, fading, contested three pointer to tie the game at the end. I happily acknowledge that I thought that was a suspect play call and that there had to be a better option available considering the amount of time in the game. Now that that’s out of the way, Kobe scored 21 points on only 12 shots. For the preseason he’s shooting 50% from the floor, 87% (41-47) from the FT line, and has a TS% of 66.5%. Yes, it’s only preseason. And no, we shouldn’t take too much away from this. But, it’s fair to say that Kobe has looked good this exhibition season and while Nash and Howard get the headlines, Kobe is still chugging along doing well.

Darius Soriano

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14 responses to Dwight Howard Makes His Debut, Lakers Still Lose

  1. Man, you had me worried there for a second!! Great post.

  2. Stu and Billie-Mac are going to have to get past the missed free throw thing. We get it. It is better to make free throws than miss them.

    I feel like the Lakers usually have high turnover rates early in seasons. They’re still figuring out where people will be. That much I don’t worry about.

    It’s also too early to worry about the bench, but man.

  3. JD,
    I have another post on the bench ready to go up in a little while. I didn’t want to bring it up here because I think it deserves a longer take.

  4. Your take would be useful because I’m not sure what to think yet (being very early, with rotations and personnel still all over the place).

  5. All I’ve heard about Duhon heading into this season is how awful he is, but I have been pleasantly surprised by his aggressive defense, as well as his decision making on offense. When it comes to staying in front of your man or making quick rotations, Steve Blake is not even in the same ballpark.

  6. Duhon has always been a steady player, although he’s never been a good shooter. His recent good numbers on 3-point shooting have surprised me, it’s probably because he’s been playing in SVG’s 1-in 4-out offense the past few years and a lot of them have been open. And even awful, terrible NBA players can make open 3s at a high clip.

    I haven’t actually seen much of preseason, I’ve been relying on wrap-up posts here and the commenters for most of the feedback. But Duhon has always seemed like a smart, low-mistake, but offensively-limited player, even back to his days at Duke. That being said, my hope is still that Kupchak can wave his magic wand again and move him and perhaps Blake for (very low) draft picks, clearing room for DJO and CDR to make the team. They really could use the youth on the team, even if they’re going to make young-player mistakes for the first few months of the season.

    Five savvy vets as starters, a couple of raw young guys on the bench and some steady old hands (like Jamison, once he rounds into shape) to keep things from getting out of hand sounds like a good recipe for a great season.

  7. Here’s what I’ve been seeing in this pre-season thus far: NOT A FREAKING THING!…yes, I do not have TWC! I hope this cable thing gets resolved soon!

  8. Looking forward to your post on the bench Darius. Specifically, given LT’s comments above, your take on the Blake v/s Duhon battle – who do you think is a better find behind Nash?

    I’m holding out hope that the reason we haven’t played CDR or DJO much is that we are letting Duhon and/or Blake audition for other teams (and not because CDR/DJO aren’t worthy!).

  9. Here’s Grantland’s take on last night’s game:
    http://www.grantland.com/blog/the-triangle/post/_/id/40464/boogie-watch

  10. Tangent: It’s really a pleasure having Mike Trudell fill the sideline reporter gig. He’s really bringing interesting info up and taking a very professional tact.

    Oh, and great post. Mirrors my thoughts on the game and the HoF back and front court. Familiarity through reps will iron out the inconsistent play and stupid mistakes. On turn overs, preseason and even the early regular season is almost always super high turnover fest. Players are still getting back to the speed of things and learning new systems, teammates and opponents. I’m confident with Nash running the point our TOs will go down considerably from last year even.

  11. I liked what I saw lst night from our starters. The concern, as last year, is the bench.

    Does anyone have a short list of potential league cuts that may make sense for the Lakers to grab?

  12. I`ve said from Oct1,that at least 2 of the big 4 have to be on the floor at all times. Because Nash can only go about 30min.,backup PG remains the biggest hole on the team, especially compared to other top tier teams.

  13. Darius,
    Agree with pretty much everything in this post, esp. the Howard observations. One thing I’d add about Nash is that the Princeton offense isn’t one that really suits what he does so well. He’s a good and smart enough player to run it, and he will as a team guy, but it’s not the type of offense that is tailored to him.

    It remains to be seen how much Nash will freelance (or be allowed to freelance) and how the team is able to integrate the different types of offensive sets that Nash, Kobe, Pau, and Howard are comfortable in.