“It’s another game.”
That was how Dwight Howard described facing the Lakers this Thursday. Just three words. Howard says he’s over all the drama of last season and the summer, the Lakers say they are over it, the fan bases say they are over it. Everyone says they have moved on and don’t want to talk or read about it.
Yet, like running into your ex-girlfriend at a bar just a month after you broke up, it’s still a meeting that is awkward and emotional. It stirs up feelings. For Howard and the Lakers that first meeting is Thursday night on Howard’s home turf in Houston (TNT, 10:30 ET).
Howard just doesn’t want to talk about it or hypotheticals.
“Listen, it’s over with man. I’m already out of there,” Howard said Monday night in Los Angeles where his Rockets lost their lone game this young season to the Clippers. “There’s no need to talk about what the Lakers could have did, I made my decision and I’m living with it. I’m happy where I’m at, I’m in a great place… I think everybody should move forward. It’s over with. This is my life. You don’t like it? So what.”
In Houston Howard is loved as the star who turned his back on the starlets for something real — James Harden and a well-constructed roster that can compete for a title the next few years (especially with a couple roster tweaks). Houston has the best offense in the NBA through five games and is outscoring opponents by 9.1 points per 100 possessions, third best in the NBA (Golden State and Indiana are ahead of them). The Rockets are 4-1 to start the season and while there’s a long way to go they look very good.
Howard made the right basketball decision. The Lakers’ roster and direction is in much more flux — they have cap space next summer but we’ll see what that can bring.
Still on Monday night the Los Angeles media that crowded around Howard postgame in the halls of Staples Center included a host of Lakers beat writers there because he left. In Los Angeles, him choosing to leave the storied Lakers franchise is still viewed as treasonous. Like he chose to dump Kate Upton.
Howard said he learned in Los Angeles last season how to tune that out.
“Not to allow what is being said to affect who I am as a person, to continue to lead this team despite whatever is going on on the outside,” Howard said of the lessons learned. “To be the guy for the team. We’ve got a lot of young players that look up to me, it’s my job not to let whatever happens off the floor, outside the locker room effect who I am as a person.”
As for the Thursday night game, the Kobe-less Lakers have been an up-and-down team — it was very down in Dallas Tuesday — but they can score points. The Lakers get out and run, and they move the ball well. They just can’t stop anyone. Through five games (small sample size theater) the Lakers have the third worst defense in the NBA, allowing 106.9 points per 100 possessions.
Put that up against the strong Rockets offense and it’s a recipe for real trouble for the Lakers.
But what will stun Lakers fans most is the quickness and energy with which Howard is playing — he is healthy again. Or close to it, he said he’s not 100 percent yet. But by his own admission Howard came back too early last season and between the back and shoulder injuries he was never right, never himself. Rockets coach Kevin McHale said when they signed Howard this summer and he came in for a physical team doctors were surprised the rough shape he was in. Howard spent another summer just on rehab and it shows.
He looks good. Which is going to be rough for Lakers fans, because the last thing you want to see when you run into your ex in the bar is for her to look smokin’ hot.