The Lakers (8-8) must follow up Friday night’s satisfying performance against the Denver Nuggets by welcoming an Orlando Magic (5-10) team that is struggling with life after Dwight Howard.
When asked about why the Lakers got off to a fast start against the Nuggets, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni pointed to Howard’s energy.
“I thought Dwight came out set the tone with 16 points in the first quarter, a lot of it was offensive rebounds, running the floor, just being a presence defensively,” D’Antoni said at practice on Saturday.
Howard played all 12 minutes of the first quarter and also drew three of the Denver’s four fouls in the period. The Lakers played from the inside-out, rather than from the outside-in. Howard was the focal point of the offense, statistically verified by Kobe Bryant only taking three shots in the opening quarter.
“When we play inside-out, we tend to have better nights,” Howard said at practice on Saturday.
In fact, Bryant did not attempt a shot until over 7 minutes into the game, but he did manage 5 of his 8 assists in the opening quarter. The Lakers seemed like they had a near-perfect performance, but D’Antoni was quick to point out that Bryant and Metta World Peace did not shoot the ball well.
Two players who did shoot the ball well, however, were Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks. With Meeks and Jamison combining for 54 points on 20-28 shooting, the Lakers bench suddenly looked like it was the best offensive bench in the league. Chris Duhon also contributed 8 assists and 5 points on Friday night, helping the Lakers bench score as many points as the starters.
The Lakers talent may not have changed over the past couple weeks, but the players -- namely Howard -- are getting healthier and stronger. Until Steve Nash returns, the formula to victory is simple: play from the inside-out.
Considering Howard used that formula to carry the Orlando Magic to the NBA finals, the Lakers need only look at their opponents on Sunday night to verify this strategy.