The Lakers play the Kings for the second time in 3 days tonight, this time back at Staples Center after returning from Las Vegas. In the last contest, the Lakers showed as much desire to get a W that they have the entire exhibition season but still could not get it done. The Kings were hot from the outside and kept the Lakers at arm’s length all night by knocking down key shots every time the team tried to make a push. Kudos to them. Seriously. The young Kings looked into the game and as much as the Lakers didn’t want to lose you could tell the Kings really wanted to get a win.
Tonight, though, the Lakers may be getting reinforcements. Dwight Howard is officially listed as a game time decision but I’d bet that he plays. While the team has been cautious in bringing him back, Mike Brown said after Saturday’s practice that if Howard were cleared by the doctors he’d be in the lineup tonight. With news out of Lakers’ practice not giving us any indication that Dwight would be ruled out, I’m using that lack of a declaration as an affirmation that he’s likely to play. Of course, I could be wrong, but I’m of the mind that it’s doubtful he suffers any sort of setback between now and game time and that he’ll be ready to play.
For the Lakers, this is good news (and that is an understatement). Not that I expect Howard to be up to the standard he’s set throughout his career tonight. He’s not played in an NBA game since April and he’s sure to show signs of rust. There may be some missed rotations on D, some missed shots that he’d normally make, and a general sense that the game is moving a bit too fast for him. All of this would be normal so adjust your expectations accordingly.
That said, the Lakers are deep enough into the preseason that there’s now little else they can learn about this team without starting to get all their injured players back on the floor. Howard, of course, is the most significant of these players. Having Howard back allows Mike Brown to start to experiment with rotations that he’s more likely to use in the regular season and, thus, start to find a comfort zone with which player combinations work and don’t.
Brown can also start to see how his offensive and defensive sets look — in a non practice environment — in live action with Howard anchoring the pivot. This information will only help inform him further in starting to develop his team as a cohesive unit. That process must begin somewhere and the sooner Howard is in the fold, the better in that respect.
All that said I’ve been of the mind that the Lakers should hold off on bringing Howard back until he’s absolutely ready and still believe that. So, if he ends up sitting tonight I’d be okay with that. I’ve also been preaching patience in this preseason in terms taking too much stock in the results of the games and my position hasn’t changed on that either.
These games aren’t to be judged on wins or losses, but more about the positive steps the team is taking towards becoming better. These last couple of games the Lakers have moved forward and, despite the losses, that should be looked at as progress. Getting Howard back would be another step in the right direction but if that doesn’t happen tonight, the team can take solace in the fact that it will happen relatively soon.
I can’t lie, though. I do hope it happens tonight.