He made us wait, but the wait was certainly worth it.
After missing six months of action following back surgery, Dwight Howard made the most anticipated debut of the NBA preseason, suiting up in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform for the first time for LA’s matchup with the Sacramento Kings on Sunday.
The Lakers fell to 0-6 in exhibition play after the 99-92 loss, but Howard exceeded already-high expectations by posting a double-double with 19 points on eight of 12 shooting and 12 rebounds. He also added two assists and four blocks in 33 minutes of work.
“It was fun,” Howard told reporters via ESPN.com. “I had a lot of fun tonight. I’m just thankful and blessed to be able to step on the floor again.”
Howard received a warm reception from his new hometown fans in the sold-out Staples Center and was overcome with emotion.
“I actually shed a couple of tears tonight during the starting lineups,” Howard said. “One of my teammates caught me so I had to like try to hide it. I was just excited and a little emotional because I haven’t been on the court in a while.”
And his teammates instantly noticed the difference with Howard in the lineup.
“He made the game easier for everyone,” said Steve Nash. “He’s such a presence and takes up so much space when he just rolls to the basket. So, it’s a gift to play with someone like that.”
Almost everyone was impressed by his first performance as a Laker, but Howard thought he was rusty at times. When asked to assign a grade to his first game, Howard gave himself a “B”.
“You could tell his timing was a little bit off at times,” coach Mike Brown said. “A couple of times where he probably would have blocked the shot he was maybe a half step late and then offensively at times he was a half step late in certain areas but overall, I thought he looked good.”
Luckily for Howard and the Lakers, he and the team still have a little time to work out the kinks with two preseason games remaining before the regular season opener at home against the Dallas Mavericks on Oct. 30.
“There’s a lot of bright spots,” Howard said. “We’re going to continue to get better. I’d say midseason we’ll have everything flowing just the right way.”