He scored, he played defense, and he drew the Nuggets’ fouls, helping to get their key players into foul trouble and rendering them less effective.
And Howard got his head coach thinking about starting him.
“I'm considering that,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “But I won't release our starting lineup until tomorrow night 30 minutes before the game.”
Howard started two games this season, both of which came during a pre-pandemic road trip when starting center JaVale McGee was hurt. This season with the Lakers has been the first in Howard’s career that he has been asked to come off the bench. Previously, he’d started in all but one game of his career.
Howard and McGee were little used in their series against Houston as the Rockets have a smaller, quicker lineup that necessitated the Lakers using their centers less. Howard only played 14 minutes and 39 seconds and sat out Games 2, 3 and 4.
The Lakers started McGee in Game 1 on Friday night, but moved to Howard in the second quarter. Vogel was impressed enough that he started Howard in the third quarter, a sign he might have confidence in Howard as a starter going forward.
Vogel’s decisions in the second-round series against the Rockets, in which he started forward Markieff Morris instead of McGee toward the end, showed that the Lakers coach isn’t afraid to make a change.
“You measure how quickly you want to make a move,” Vogel said. “You always want to have moves to make in terms of you don't want to just start with your Plan C or D. You try Plan A first and see how that works and how that plays out, and then it's a case-by-case, game-by-game, series-by-series type of evaluation.
“I won't submit any decisions until the morning of game day. We have a postgame feeling of where we are at, how I feel about it. We'll watch the tape, measure it again the next day. Have an idea of where we are going without putting it in cement, and then sleep on that next night and wake up the next morning with a plan.”
Morris from three
Morris took four shots on Friday night, all of them three-pointers, and made three. He was asked on Saturday about the rhythm he’d hit recently.
“Just repetition, same thing over and over every day, being out on the court a little bit more, figuring out how to play with the guys that I'm on the court with, finding my sweet spots,” Morris said. “But I shot 40% when I was in Detroit from the three, so it's really nothing new.”
Morris made 39.7% of his threes during the first part of this season when he played for the Pistons. It was the best he’s shot from three-point range in his career. He and the Pistons agreed to a buyout in February and Morris officially signed with the Lakers two days later.
The Lakers listed Dion Waiters as out because of a strained groin for Sunday’s game. The other two players on the injury report are LeBron James (ankle) and Rajon Rondo (back spasms), who are both listed as probable.
In the second quarter of Game 1, James stepped on the ankle of Nuggets forward Jerami Grant and winced in pain as his ankle rolled in an unnatural way.
Although James was back to playing not long after that, he had a wrap around the ankle after the game. James wasn’t dressed to practice Saturday when reporters entered the gym, but it was a light day and the Lakers did not have much activity. Vogel said James will play Sunday.
Ganguli reported from Los Angeles.