Dwight Howard led the Los Angeles Lakers to a 91-86 win over the San Antonio Spurs in their first game without Kobe Bryant. Howard made a statement on both ends of the floor with 26 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks, and two steals. He was immense, and he was the undisputed leader of the Lakers for the first time ever.
During the third quarter, Howard was intentionally fouled repeatedly and forced to go to the free throw line in a close game. He struggled by only making two of his first eight free throws during the painfully boring stretch of the game when the Spurs employed the Hack-a-Howard strategy. However, he made his final two foul shots to end the quarter, and he carried that confidence into the final period.
In the fourth quarter, Howard made both his free throws and shot a perfect two for two from the field. However, Howard’s most notable contribution may have been the defensive mentality he forced upon his teammates.
With Bryant no longer around, the new undisputed leader of the team preaches, teaches, and demands defense.
On Sunday night, the Lakers held the San Antonio Spurs to 86 points on 37 percent shooting from the field. They no longer had the offensive ability to outscore teams, and Howard reminded everyone within earshot that “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.”
“We’re gonna fight to the end,” Howard said. “Despite whatever has happened this season, we got a chance to win the next game and go to the playoffs and make history.”
“I believe in this team,” Howard repeated several times during his postgame comments.
Yes, Howard still believes the Lakers are capable of winning a championship. The next step for the Lakers is to beat the Houston Rockets on Wednesday and qualify for the playoffs. If they are able to beat the Rockets, the Lakers will be on a five game winning streak entering the post season, and they still have a slim shot at even getting the seventh or sixth spot.
The Lakers have Monday off and return to practice on Tuesday morning.