Ahead of Wednesday’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Dwight Howard appeared motivated and made promises that he would be the defensive rock the Lakers needed. It all had to start with him, especially on the defensive end.
Well, it all started well.
Howard played nearly eight minutes in the first quarter, and although he was 0-2 from the field, the team was tied when he left the game. In his absence, Pau Gasol played the center position and kept the team in the game even with the Grizzlies’ bench aggressively attacking the rim.
When Howard re-entered the game, Gasol stayed on the floor because he seemed to be developing a good offensive rhythm. Howard checked in with 8:45 remaining in the second quarter with the Lakers up by two points. He would leave the game due to a shoulder injury with 2:21 remaining on the clock with the Lakers down by nine.
What happened in those 6:24 of game time?
Howard, shown below during the game, shot 0-for-2 and missed one free throw. He was unable to corral a single rebound. With Howard on the floor alongside Gasol, the Lakers went from up two points to down 10 points.
Lakers Head Coach Mike D’Antoni called timeout and pulled Gasol with 5:59 remaining in the quarter. Howard was on the floor with the starting unit for the next three and a half minutes. The Lakers’ deficit would grow to 15 points before coming back down to nine points at the point when Howard went to the locker room and never came back out.
In 14:10 actual game time, Howard was 0-4 from the field with two missed free throws. Howard only had two points and two defensive rebounds to his name. This was after the Lakers had a clear-the-air meeting in the morning.
"I have to do more for this team,” Howard told reporters following the meeting. “There are a lot of responsibilities on my shoulders. I have to step up and take it. It has to be me. It has to start with me. I'm a guy that has to dominate for us to win. We're not going to win unless I dominate."
With 2:21 remaining in the first half, Howard was not dominating. The Lakers were down by nine points, and he had been on the floor during the collapse. His lone block and steal came in the first four minutes on the game. He could not do anything defensively in the second quarter.
The Grizzlies scored 59 points in the first half. During Howard’s 6:24 of time on the floor in the second quarter, Memphis scored 24 points. During Howard’s frustrating second quarter run, the Grizzlies scored at a rate of 3.75 points per minute. If they were able to continue that efficiency, they would have scored 180 points in 48 minutes.
When his team was falling apart defensively, Howard did not have the ability to stop the bleeding. He could not make a shot, he could not play defense, and he could not grab a rebound.
Then, his already injured shoulder started acting up.
Howard took himself out of the game. After halftime, Howard did not come out for warm-ups and did not play the entire second half.
The Lakers did not just lose a game in Memphis. They lost faith in their ability to count on Howard to fix the defense. Wednesday proved that even a motivated Howard cannot dominate defensively because he has clearly lost some spring and some quickness following back surgery.
Whether or not he will eventually regain his athleticism back does not matter at the moment. The Lakers making the playoffs on Howard’s back is not going to happen. He cannot be the defensive solution to the fifth-worst defense in the league.
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