Center Dwight Howard is looking forward to his first action with the Lakers. (Gus Ruelas / Associated…)
The Lakers finally welcomed their franchise center, Dwight Howard, to the court after six months of recovery from back surgery. Shaking off the rust, Howard still managed a double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
"I had a lot of fun tonight," Howard said. "I’m just thankful and blessed to be able to step on the floor."
Ultimately, the Lakers would fall 99-92 to the Sacramento Kings, but they showed glimpses of their potential in a year they expect to compete for a title.
After five dismal preseason games in which they were outplayed by their opponents in nearly every category, the Lakers shot 49.3% from the field. Of their 33 baskets, 22 were converted off assists.
Conversely, the Lakers also turned over the ball 22 times, arguably a key reason for their sixth preseason loss in as many tries.
Some of the turnovers came from Howard, trying to find himself. Some was the team over-thinking as they tried to execute the Princeton offense hybrid that Coach Mike Brown is still teaching.
Brown took responsibility for the team's third-quarter letdown.
"We tried to tell them to go to a certain action and it might have discombobulated the group a little bit because they kept trying to force the issue," Brown said. "It wasn't quite there and Sacramento went on a run in the beginning of the third quarter."
This was after the Lakers went into halftime with a flourish, Kobe Bryant nailing a buzzer-beater to put his team up 57-46. The Kings would go on to outscore the Lakers 28-15 in the third.
DeMarcus Cousins proved to be a force late in the game for Sacramento. The Lakers had opportunities, including an easy floater that Steve Nash missed at close range that would have given the Lakers a lead with 21 seconds left.
"I got a really good look," Nash said. "I just kind of shot it a little bit short, but I'll take that any day of the week."
Bryant was high-man for the Lakers, with 21 points. Cousins scored 16 for the Kings, including a number of key plays to put the Kings over the top. Aaron Brooks, a longtime thorn in the Lakers' side dating back to his time with the Houston Rockets, also scored 16 off the bench.
The Lakers did have a few minor scares, including a slightly sprained ankle that briefly sent Nash to the locker room in the third quarter.
"It's great. It's just sore," he said. "I don't think I'll miss any games or anything."
Howard, after an offensive rebound and put-back, crashed to the floor with a thump but was able to get up quickly, unfazed.
"I’m going to have some tough falls because I play hard and try to block all the shots," he said. "It was cool. I didn’t feel anything.”
Late in the game, Metta World Peace dislocated the middle finger on his right hand, but the injury isn't expected to cause serious problems.
Although the home crowd was disappointed by the final score, the Lakers had moments when they looked unstoppable.
Bryant and Howard showed a pick-and-roll, two-man game that will be a problem for opponents. Howard's mobility defensively stood out dramatically, especially when compared with last year's center, Andrew Bynum.
Bynum has a more-polished post game than Howard, but the difference in agility is astounding.
The high/low play-making from Pau Gasol passing over the top to Howard is another potent weapon. Even the Lakers bench looked strong in the first half.
Brown noted that his starters will continue to get more minutes through the remainder of the exhibition season and certainly during the regular season. He said he'll look to keep at a starter on the floor at all times, especially at the power positions.
The Lakers have yet to win a game in the exhibition season, but with Howard in the lineup, it's just a matter of time before the team finds itself.
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