Howard's Redemption Story

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A story of redemption emerged from the Lakers’ realm Sunday as fans celebrated a second consecutive win and the season-opening loss to the Clippers drifted a little further into the backdrop.

None other than Dwight Howard received a standing ovation when he checked out of a 120-101 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.

Yes, Dwight Howard.

The same player who was blamed for so many Lakers problems in the ill-fated 2012-13 season. The same player who quickly thereafter bolted as a free agent to take less money with the Houston Rockets. The same player whose jersey had the “H” in his last name covered up and replaced with a paper “C” by some Lakers fans when he played against his former team in November 2013 at Staples Center.

All was forgiven Sunday night.

Howard was dominant in 23 minutes, scoring 16 points, taking 10 rebounds and blocking four shots while dipping into the memory vault of his days as the NBA’s top big man.

“When we’re all together — the fans, the team and everybody together — there’s nothing we can’t accomplish,” Howard told Spectrum SportsNet before walking off the court Sunday as Lakers fans called out his name and angled to get high-fives from him.

It was a circuitous route to get to this moment, to say the least.

Howard played for four different teams since leaving the Lakers, bottoming out last season with only nine games for Washington before undergoing season-ending surgery.

That he’s on the Lakers now is due to the misfortune of DeMarcus Cousins, who sustained a torn ACL in August while playing basketball a month before training camp.

The Lakers considered Joakim Noah as Cousins’ replacement but settled on Howard. Part of it was Howard’s impassioned talk with Lakers players, including LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He spoke of the need to take basketball more seriously, the desire for one more chance.

Howard’s effort Sunday wasn’t lost on James.

“That’s why we brought him here,” he said. “We felt like everyone else was writing him off and we felt like we could give him a great opportunity. We believed in him. We believed in his word. He’s making the most of it and we’re truly excited to have him here right now.”

Howard turns 34 in December. Expectations are substantially lower than his first tour here, when he arrived with six consecutive All-Star Game appearances and the Lakers only two years removed from an NBA championship.

He’s a role player now, coming off a quiet first two games in which he totaled five points in 38 minutes. On Sunday, he made all eight of his shots and riled up the Staples Center crowd with his play.

“I just try to go in there and do my job. The second unit, we’ve got to bring energy, we’ve got to keep it going,” Howard said. “I had to get in the game, fly around, get some rebounds, block some shots. I’m glad we got a good win.”

In another sign of his recent career woes, Howard is on a non-guaranteed contract for the first time. It doesn’t become fully vested until Jan. 10.

It seems a mere formality that the Lakers will keep him, but Howard isn’t taking any chances. The player with 736 double-doubles has a simple plan.

“Stay in the gym, stay in the treatment room, stay in the cold plunge to keep my legs fresh,” he said. “I just do whatever I can to help this team win.”

Go Time

Despite losing the season opener, the Lakers (2-1) have a chance at a quick start.

They’re likely the favorites in 11 of their next 12 games, setting them up for a better push than their 8-7 start a year ago.

It’s an important concept for a team with nine new players searching for a spot atop the NBA hierarchy.

Plus, a rough-and-tumble December is around the corner, filled with a rematch against the Clippers and road games against Denver, Utah, Milwaukee and Portland twice.