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Lakers quickly notice a difference with Dwight Howard in lineup

After Dwight Howard's exhibition debut with Lakers, teammates say having the all-star center on the floor opens things up on offense and provides a safety net on defense.

October 22, 2012|By Melissa Rohlin

Dwight Howard may have felt pressure during his Lakers debut, but his teammates were enjoying some relief.

Kobe Bryant found himself open under the basket.

"Guys are very reluctant to take their body off of [Howard], so as a result you get a lot of layups," Bryant said.

Pau Gasol felt emboldened on the defensive end.

"You feel like you have a safety behind you," Gasol said.

Steve Nash could make clean passes.

"He draws a lot of attention on those rolls so he can open up lanes for his teammates," Nash said.

Howard made everyone's job easier in his first game as a Laker on Sunday evening, a 99-92 exhibition loss to the Sacramento Kings.

His mere presence on the court not only gives the Lakers another superstar, it gives his teammates a decoy.

Defenses can't double- and triple-team Bryant when there's a six-time All-Star looming near the paint. As Gasol put it, with this current Lakers squad, defenses now have a major problem.

"They don know who to leave," he said.

Howard, who last played in an NBA game April 7 before having back surgery for a herniated disk, had 19 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots in his Lakers debut. Within the first three minutes of the game, Howard made a dunk off a lob from Gasol and blocked a Sacramento shot. .

Of course, his first game in six months also came with some struggles. Howard committed five turnovers and appeared a bit sluggish at times.

But overall, Howard's teammates were not only impressed by his performance, they were excited about having witnessed a glimpse of what might be one of the best starting lineups in the league.

"I think it's going to be a great combination," Nash said.

Even though the game was meaningless, it was a historic night for the Lakers, who informally inducted Howard into their storied franchise, which has housed some of the most dominant centers of all time, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal.

Howard's teammates weren't the only ones affected by the experience.

After the game, while standing by his locker, Howard acknowledged that he never thought he'd actually be a Laker.

"I actually shed a couple of tears tonight during the starting lineups," Howard said.

melissa.rohlin@latimes.com

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