Sunday, March 10, 2013

Dwight Howard: Clark Kent to Superman

After more drama than an episode of "The Hills," Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant have willed the Los Angeles Lakers back into the playoff picture. LA has spent much of the season under .500, but improved to 33-31 with its 90-81 win over Chicago on Sunday. 

LA now holds a 1/2 game lead over the fledgling Utah Jazz for the 8th spot in the Western Conference. You didn’t actually think they'd miss the playoffs, did you?

While analysts praise Kobe’s clutch shooting, much of LA’s recent success rests on the broad shoulders of Howard.

Since the All Star break, Howard has been a rebounding machine. He’s averaging 14.8 rebounds in 10 games since the break. He has recorded a double-double in 8 of those 10 games, and the Lakers have won 8 of those 10 games. Starting to notice a trend?

As you can see from today’s real-time SnapCall, the Lakers are simply a better team when Howard is getting touches. After taking two fouls in the first quarter and being forced to sit, Howard took his 5th shot with 9:15 left in the second quarter. In just 11 minutes of play, Howard already had 8 points and 8 rebounds. Howard finished the game with 16 points and an impressive 21 rebounds. D-12 threw in 4 blocks for good measure.

Of course, Howard’s overall numbers are down this season. He’s averaging 16.2 points per game, his fewest since 2005-06, which was his second NBA season. While Howard’s 12 RPG leads the NBA, it still stands below his 12.9 career average. Many pundits feel that Howard is underachieving, but that opinion could be related to the distractions he creates off the court.

As far as fans are concerned, Dwight’s inconsistent play has been exacerbated by his diva-like behavior in front of the camera. He’s made a bad habit of engaging in verbal jousting matches with current and former teammates. His complaints and gripes became nothing more than cannon fodder for “Around the Horn” journalists.

For a time, the Lakers had to be wondering whether they dealt one headache-inducing franchise center - Andrew Bynum - for another.

Howard claims to have learned his lesson, though. He hasn’t been versed in the art of speaking in platitudes, but has rededicated himself to his team.

I just told myself, 'I'm going to commit myself to being better for the second half of the season,’” Howard said, according to ESPN.

It remains to be seen whether Howard can keep the drama to a minimum, but his impact on the court is crystal clear. 

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