After missing the Los Angeles Lakers' first five preseason contests while working his way back from surgery to repair the herniated disk in his lower back that ended his final season with the Orlando Magic, offseason trade acquisition Dwight Howard made his long-awaited Hollywood premiere during the Lakers' Sunday night matchup with the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center ... and while there's still plenty of work to be done before L.A.'s firing on all cylinders, the five-time All-NBA First Team center showed enough to stoke Laker fans' excitement for the coming season.
Howard hadn't seen live game action since hitting the injury list following a 20-point, 22-rebound, six-assist outing for the Magic against the Philadelphia 76ers on April 7, a full 197 days before jumping tip against the Kings. It didn't take him long to get involved — just two minutes into the game, fellow offseason import Steve Nash slipped a bounce pass to new frontcourt mate Pau Gasol at the top of the key, and the 7-foot Spaniard offered Howard the same courtesy he once extended to Andrew Bynum, quickly lofting a lob toward the rim for some of the high-low volleyball that has made the Lakers so difficult to defend down low in recent years.
Howard thanked Pau thusly:
And they were off.
As could be expected, there were some stumbles. Howard turned the ball over five times, bobbled a couple of passes and, as Lakers coach Mike Brown said after the game, "You could tell his timing was off a little bit at times." One of those times? When Howard neglected to box out Kings rookie Thomas Robinson, who thanked Dwight thusly:
Yipes. Maybe file that one away, Dwight — when you play the Kings from here on out, make sure to get an eyeball on the rook when the shot goes up.
Still, Howard's first game back has to be considered a resounding success: 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting, 12 rebounds (four on the offensive glass), four blocks, two assists, 33 minutes of floor time and no apparent ill effects from either the back injury or the lengthy layoff. I like the way Ben Golliver of SI.com's The Point Forward put it: "Howard moved Sunday as if free of both his back pain and the weight of the world, and that was promising enough to make everyone, including the Miami Heat, a little bit more nervous than they were on Saturday."
All told, things resolved about as positively as they could for both sides — Howard looked loose, athletic and nimble, Lakers fans got a glimpse of the kind of game-changer he can be, Kings fans got to watch him get momentarily humbled by a player over whom they're super thrilled, and Sacramento wound up beating L.A. after Kobe Bryant missed two 3-pointers in the final 10 seconds ... which, even though it's just preseason, had to be pretty satisfying for the Kings faithful. It's always nice when everyone goes home happy.
Video package of Howard's first night courtesy of our friends at the National Basketball Association. Video of Gasol-to-Howard courtesy of 1jzo. If the clip of Robinson's follow isn't rocking for you, feel free to check it out elsewhere, thanks to the NBA.