Following the All-Star break, the Los Angeles Lakers have been a focused team of winners. Winning eight of 10 games, Dwight Howard has displayed the most pronounced improvement for Los Angeles entering the final stretch of the season. On Tuesday, his play will be under the microscope as he faces his former team, the Orlando Magic, for the first time.
Howard apologized for the manner in which he departed the city where he plied his trade for eight years, but he has hardly avoided the recent criticism hurled at him from fans of his former team. Howard showed Triple Threat an image of a billboard in Orlando that had a countdown of how long it would be until “Dwight leaves us again.”
Howard smiled at the creativity, and one may go as far as to say he was enjoying some of the added attention.
One major reason Howard may be enjoying the extra attention right about now is that the Lakers are winning, and he has been an integral component to the Lakers’ recent victories. Howard has been displaying significant improvement, and his 21 rebounds against the Chicago Bulls only emphasized how far along he is on the path to recovery.
He still refuses to say that he is all the way back, but he constantly talks about feeling better and getting healthier.
Howard has even changed his diet by cutting out his biggest vice: candy. Howard claimed that he put former-Laker Lamar Odom to shame when it came to candy consumption, but the Lakers’ center said he has not touched a piece of candy since the All-Star break.
If the ban on candy is the cause for the refreshed Howard, the Lakers should consider including a no-candy provision if, or when, Howard re-signs with the Lakers in the off season.
Howard’s play has helped the past few weeks, but he has had some help from the Western Conference Player of the Week, an up-and-coming Laker by the name of Kobe Bryant. The award came as a huge shock to the 17-year-old…um, 17-year veteran. Okay, so he still needs to play another 18 games before he is officially a 17-year veteran, but honestly, he’s already a 17-year vet. Bryant is the only Laker to play in each and every game this season.
Bryant fought to put the Lakers back into the playoffs, but a Utah win on Monday dropped LA back into the ninth seed. The Lakers will face a hostile crowd in Orlando before traveling to Atlanta on Wednesday on a back-to-back. The road trip concludes in Indiana on Friday.
Howard’s ability to control his emotions on his unwelcomed homecoming will go a long way towards the Lakers winning on Tuesday night. The Lakers should win, but then again, Orlando won in Los Angeles, so there is no point guaranteeing a victory.
This game promises to have an emotional component and more crowd participation than most games. Make sure to tune in for Howard’s pregame introduction.