(Joseph Sherman/Los Angeles Lakers)
Lakers On Track, Led By Faces New and Old
LOS ANGELES – It wasn’t quite a dry run for Opening Night, but the crowd at STAPLES Center was able to get its first peek at Frank Vogel’s squad.
With most of the starting lineup injured or resting after a week spent halfway ‘round the world in China, Dwight Howard was probably the most recognizable face in uniform come tipoff time. And the fanbase made sure to make him feel welcome right away.
The former Magic star, back with the Lakers after a 76-game stint in 2012-13, drew a foul within the first minute of play and promptly sank both free throws, drawing applause from the home crowd.
That was just a taste of what was about to come, as Howard filled out the stat sheet in the Lakers’ 104-98 win over the Golden State Warriors on Monday night.
Howard took less than 15 minutes to reach a double-double, finishing with 12 points, 13 rebounds, one block and four steals in 22:19. He might even be adding new tricks, as he dished out six assists, something he’s only done seven times in 1,044 regular season games.
Howard even had a coast-to-coast fast break dunk after intercepting a bounce pass from Jordan Poole, showing encouraging agility for a big man in his 16th season in the league:
Howard and JaVale McGee are vying for a spot in the regular season starting lineup, as Vogel plans to have a traditional center alongside Anthony Davis and LeBron James in the frontcourt.
“Those guys are a huge part of what we’re trying to accomplish here,” Vogel said. “They’re pivotal in our rim protection, our rebounding, our physicality. Both of them are giving us something offensively with smart play, the lob threat, playing out of the post … there’s no drop off. It’s like a tag team by committee at the center position and we’re getting really strong play from those guys.”
McGee, who had his share of high peaks last season before a bout of pneumonia in December stopped his momentum, also played well, chipping in 11 points, five boards, and three blocks.
The former Warrior even showed a little bit of his new his range, draining a three from the top of the arc in the second quarter with the clock winding down.
If Howard was the marquee name in the lineup, then Zach Norvell Jr. was its best player on the floor throughout the whole night.
Stepping onto the hardwood at STAPLES Center for the first time, the undrafted rookie from Gonzaga sure made a memorable first impression.
Norvell Jr., who’ll be playing this season under a two-way contract, led the team with 22 points on 6-for-13 from the field. The 21-year old guard shot 3-for-8 from long range and 7-for-8 at the line.
“Zach has a real knack for scoring the basketball,” Vogel said. “He’s not just a shooter, he understands and how he’s being guarded, how the bigs are approaching him when he comes off screens … everybody has to honor him, so he brings gravity to the team.”
He even provided the highlight of the night, with fellow rookie Poole once again being the victim.
(Come for the nasty crossover, stay for the bench celebration!)
Overall, the Lakers held the Warriors to 36.2% from the field and scored 34 points off turnovers in what ended up being a relatively close win after leading by 15 through 3 quarters.
The unusual circumstances (LeBron James, Danny Green and Avery Bradley were rested and Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Quinn Cook and Troy Daniels are nursing injuries) allowed younger guys like Devontae Cacok (16 points and six rebounds), Demetrius Jackson (11 points and seven boards) and David Stockton (10 points and seven assists) to play extended minutes, and all of them contributed to the final score – giving the Lakers its second win in four preseason games.
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