DALLAS – Before Saturday’s game in Dallas, one night after the ugly loss at Memphis, the second such defeat on the Los Angeles Lakers’ three-game road trip, Dwight Howard was as chipper as a kid out of school for Thanksgiving break.
He was smiling broadly while boasting of the feast he says he prepared earlier in the week at his home in Bel Air for his parents and a smattering of teammates.
“I’m a chef. When I put on my glasses, I’m good,” Howard said, adjusting the Clark Kent-styled spectacles he wore while bare-chested in the visitor’s locker room. “I made collared greens, chitlins, yam patties. You know what yam patties are? The whole nine yards.”
The same bare-chested, chuckling, 6-foot-11 center basked in the post-game locker room banter, too, kicking back with a plate piled high with barbecue Mavericks owner Mark Cuban graciously provides his guests — even after eviscerating his team. The Lakers had finally enjoyed an elusive collective effort and destroyed the Mavs from the start, 115-89.
“I made this, too,” Howard said, lifting up his plate of brisket and sausage, spurring further doubt to just how hands-on he really was with that Thanksgiving meal.
One thing is for sure on this star-studded Lakers team: Howard’s hands won’t be on the ball, from game to game, as much as he was accustomed to throughout his career as the No. 1 scoring option with the Orlando Magic.
Kobe Bryant drove that point home after Saturday’s win pulled slow-starting L.A. to 7-7, leaving no doubt what will change most once point guard Steve Nash, longtime orchestrator of Mike D’Antoni‘s up-tempo system, returns from a fracture to his left leg.
“I’ll be scoring a lot more when Nash gets back,” Bryant said. “I won’t have to facilitate as much and it will allow me to do what I do best, and that’s put the ball in the hole.”
That would suggest an uptick in Bryant’s shot attempts, even though his 247 through 14 games (17.6 a game) is 74 more than second-leading shot-taker Pau Gasol, who has already questioned the number of jumpers the offense dictates for him. Bryant has taken 94 more shots than Howard, even though the vast majority of shots for arguably the NBA’s strongest specimen come within arm’s length of the rim.
On Saturday, Howard scored 15 points. Although he’s averaging 18.0 points a game, right at his career average, it was already the fifth time this season that he’s scored 15 points or fewer. He took 11 shots against Dallas, which is, somewhat surprisingly, also right at his career average of 11.2. However, those 11 shots equaled his total attempts in the two previous games when he took just four and seven, and combined to score just 11 points.
“It’s not tough right now, all that stuff will change,” Howard said of his varying shot attempts on a team that starts Kobe, Gasol, Metta World Peace and, at some point, Nash. “The biggest thing for me is affect the game in other ways and not just really focus on the touches. I think when I try to focus too much on how many touches I need, I don’t play the way I need to play. So I know what I have to do, what I need to do for us to win.”
Already this season Howard has taken nine or fewer shots in a game five times. That happened all of nine times in 54 games last season. At this rate, it’ll happen close to 30 times this season. He’s taken as many as 18 shots in 39 minutes and as few as four shots in 41 minutes. He’s already had three games of scoring in single digits, a number that already equals last season’s total, and three games scoring at least 28 points.
All are clear indicators of how shot attempts and point totals on this team of All-Stars will sway nightly.
“You don’t focus on that. As long as we’re winning, as long as I’m controlling the paint on the defensive end and dictating the way we play on offense, you know I don’t have to score,” Howard said. “I can get everybody involved by just running the floor, setting screens, rolling hard, getting in the paint, forcing everybody (defenses) to come in, and then we have shooters.”
It’s a problem every player on 29 other teams would love to have, which is probably why all the while, Howard never stopped smiling.