Lakers center Dwight Howard powers his way around Trail Blazers center… (Steve Dykes / EPA )
PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Lakers' hodgepodge offense has months to round into form.
Their winning percentage by April will presumably resemble something more palatable than .000.
If there could be a sunny takeaway from a season's second game on a dreary night at the Rose Garden, it was that Dwight Howard was back.
The best center in basketball was himself on Halloween, putting a scare in the Portland Trail Blazers on an otherwise spooky night for the Lakers.
Actually, from the free-throw line, Howard more closely resembled sharpshooter Steve Nash, an encouraging sign for a team that desperately needed one.
He made eight consecutive free throws during one stretch and 15 of 19 overall on the way to a sterling 33-point, 14-rebound effort during the Lakers' 116-106 loss Wednesday.
“So, do I get my Halloween candy?” Howard asked a team spokeswoman in the locker room. “I made my free throws.”
The Lakers have major issues, among them a dinged-up Nash, a nonexistent bench and a Princeton offense that doesn't look capable of thriving at the NAIA level.
Howard could not be listed among the worries Wednesday.
In his first back-to-back games in more than seven months after undergoing surgery for a herniated disk in his back, Howard showed why he had made the NBA collectively hold its breath while waiting to find out where he would take his talents this summer.
He had his way with the smallish Portland front line, going in for layups and monster dunks and hook shots. He made nine of 15 shots and unexpectedly made free throw after free throw, one night after he missed 11 of 14 attempts.
Howard credited a vocal fan behind the scorer's table for his newfound accuracy.
“He was saying the same thing the coaches have been saying, just ‘elbow up on the follow-through,' Howard said. “So I just tried to remember that the whole time.”
It worked, giving Howard a source of production the Lakers could use.
“If he's knocking down his free throws,” Kobe Bryant said, “that's 25 points a night easy.”
Howard also didn't lag behind his teammates running down the court as he continued to improve his conditioning in a whirlwind schedule.
After playing one regular-season game in 206 days, he had to endure two in the span of 261/2 hours. It was his first back-to-back situation since March 18-19.
Howard looked plenty spry spinning for a layup and dunking an alley-oop pass from Pau Gasol. And there were flashes of the form that made him a three-time defensive player of the year, Howard stepping over to block Damian Lillard's shot after Lillard had blown by Nash, who was limited to 16 minutes because of an injured left shin.
It was a big improvement one day after Howard said he needed to do “a better job of being more energetic.”
“There's still some things rebounding-wise and defensively to where he's maybe half a count slow or something like that,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. “But he was a lot closer tonight on both ends of the floor to what I was used to seeing than last night.”
Howard was in a jovial mood before the game, joking about how coordinated Brown's outfits were and saying he would show up one day dressed as the Lakers coach. He also playfully mugged for a cameraman who took a close-up of him eating macaroni and cheese out of a cardboard box.
His disposition had soured considerably a few hours later, his statistics providing no consolation with the Lakers now 0-2.
On the plus side, his emergence was a step forward for a team still stuck in reverse.
“I just want to continue to stay healthy, continue to do all the things I need to do for my back to keep it strong,” Howard said. “Once we get this offense down and everything starts to flow, we're going to be tough.”