And for most of the season, Howard kept a low profile.
The Nuggets were wrapping up their practice, which took place not far from the Lakers’, with Murray about to begin his media session in the convention center hallway. Howard, as it so happened, walked by right then and the banter restarted.
“Don’t do that, fam,” Murray said to Howard, with both men smiling.
“What?” Howard said.
“Don’t do that, fam,” Murray said again.
“Where’s Joker at?” Howard replied. “Where’s his room?”
As was the case in the series opener, there was no answer.
Once the Lakers’ bench saw it was Jokic tasked with guarding Davis, it brought the noise with JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard screaming, “Thanksgiving, steak dinner, appetizers, filet mignon and potatoes, a glass of champagne!”
Davis, who faced up Jokic and maneuvered his way around the big man for a bucket in the paint. McGee shouted, “Told you it was a feast out there!”
Howard didn’t let up after Davis’ game-winner.
As the Lakers mobbed Davis on the court after his shot, big man Dwight Howard broke off from the group and decided to taunt the Nuggets as they exited the basketball stage. If you somehow haven’t noticed, Howard is leaning hard into this tough-guy approach.
“Go home!” he yelled over and over while laughing, jumping, pumping his fist and getting closer to the Nuggets’ side of the floor with every second. “Go home!”
A small group of Nuggets staffers, including one of Jokic’s biggest supporters in assistant strength and conditioning coach Felipe Eichenberger, did not take kindly to the mocking that had taken place all game long and returned to the court to shout back. The two sides exchanged words, and eventually retreated to their corners that came with conflicting emotions.
This works because Howard is playing well – in his role.
Now, Howard is focused on defending, screening and sometimes finishing at the rim while playing all-out in limited minutes. It’s what the Lakers need and what Howard can provide at age 34.
If he wants to talk trash along the way, more power to him. It’s a lot of fun.
But there’s also a fine line between the endearing villain and loathed jerk. Outside Denver, Howard appears to be the former. For now.