Dwight Howard’s second act with Lakers has been ‘pure joy’

Before settling in a chair to face the journalists waiting around his locker, Dwight Howard decided that he needed a fresh towel. The path between his chair and the shower area was a straight line through the room, but he did not take the direct route. He turned and made a pirouette along the way, turning an ordinary task into a jubilant dance for the sheer pleasure of movement and momentum.

Howard’s second act with the Lakers has been a great happy dance, a replay that has been surprisingly successful, in a team that has been surprisingly successful, and refreshingly drama free. The only clash on Monday, after Howard contributed 21 points and 15 rebounds in a 128-99 demolition of the Cleveland Cavaliers, occurred when Howard and LeBron James had different songs playing loudly in the locker room after the game. Player of the team he has become, Howard postponed to James and turned off his songs.

Howard is having fun, and the Lakers have no trouble winning even without Anthony Davis (bruised buttocks) and, on Monday, without Rajon Rondo (finger stuck). Howard couldn’t resist raising his triumphant right arm and smiled broadly when he made a three-point shot at the end of the last quarter, and the crowd at the Staples Center roared his approval in response.

“I think that many times in the past it was not accepted that the boys had such fun on the court. But I think what it shows is pure joy,” Howard said. “For me, this is like my sanctuary. For artists, they want to show how grateful they are, they make music. For a basketball player, he’s on the court. “

Howard left the bench to record his second consecutive double-double and play a key role in a push by the Lakers in the second half that affected the Cavaliers. After a four-by-six and eight-point performance in the first half, Howard made his five shots in the second half, including those three rare. “It was a monster tonight,” coach Frank Vogel said of Howard, who averages 7.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game and played in the team’s first 40 games.

“I anticipated that if he came in and his attitude was correct and his acceptance of the role was what we expected him to be, that he could be a great piece, a great asset for us,” Vogel said, “and then I anticipated that he could have a strong impact, maybe not as much as it is having. “

Some of his teammates were not so sure of what they would get when Howard signed an unsecured one-year contract as a free agent in August. The movement reeked of despair on the part of the Lakers after DeMarcus Cousins ​​broke his ACL in August. Howard’s departure from the Lakers in 2013 had been bitter. A return was completely unexpected.

He has dispelled all the doubts and questions that surrounded him by providing energy, experience, depth and those explosions of emotion that stimulate the spirit of his teammates. His veteran minimum contract of $ 2,564 million was guaranteed last week. It is proving to be a bargain.

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Dwight Howard dives during the Lakers’ victory over the Cavaliers on Monday at the Staples Center. He finished with season highs of 21 points and 15 rebounds.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“I think that many times in the league, you get MO about you. People came and said he was a bad teammate and did all this, but he has been amazing. An amazing teammate,” said the Lakers forward, Kyle Kuzma

“Always the team first, looking to help the boys, to separate the boys. He doesn’t really care about himself. He has no ego. It’s very rare, especially for someone who is like him, probably a future Hall of Fame member. He has done a lot in his career. But it has been amazing. “

Over the years, James saw the capabilities of Howard, an eight-time stellar and three-time defensive player of the year, but this version of Howard was older, had bounced off the league and had to get used to leaving the league. Bank. Howard, who turned 34 last month, has been reborn.

“He has accepted his role and has prospered in it, and has had no excuses or anything,” James said. “We are happy to have him as part of this club.”

He is not as happy as Howard to be here, with a team that has won nine straight games and leads the Western Conference, but he does not forget his biggest goals in a season that will reach half when the Lakers host Orlando. on Wednesday. Howard had a good feeling about what might happen, and so far he has disappeared as he imagined.

“It’s just about demonstration,” he said. “I felt that I was going to enter this season, this would be our year and everyone had the same attitude, that we are going to work hard, we are going to prepare for a championship.” And you know, every day we feel that this is the championship. Every practice, every time we are in the weight room, it’s always about the championship. And that is the mentality we want to have. We want to set a standard here in Los Angeles that every day is about winning a championship. “

His best personal successes on Monday were not important to him. He said he didn’t even look at the statistics sheet and didn’t pay attention to the numbers. Even so, his performance was a memorable pirouette in the dance of this remarkable season.

“I am happy to be playing basketball,” he said. “Playing here in Los Angeles has been a great blessing to me and I appreciate every moment. So when I’m on the floor I can’t do anything, I only give 135% and I have fun in the process. “

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