The rumors head coach Frank Vogel may decide to return to starting JaVale McGee rather than staying with Dwight Howard as the Lakers’ starting center against the Heat in the upcoming 2020 NBA Finals are worrisome.
Howard has not only played far better than McGee in Conference Finals but also has consistently outplayed him in the second half of the regular season and in the seeding and first two rounds of playoff games played in the bubble. With Howard starting and helping the Lakers win the last two games to clinch the West Finals, it seems foolhardy for Frank Vogel to even consider making a change before the four most important games of the season.
Now is not the time for misplaced loyalty to displaced starting center JaVale Mcgee to derail what has worked well for the Lakers in the last two rounds to dispatch the scruffy small-ball Rockets and the gritty come-back Nuggets. The Heat, with All-Star center Bam Adebayo, resemble the Nuggets more than the Rockets or Blazers and the Lakers should deploy a defensive game plan built around starting Dwight Howard at center to shut down Adebayo.
Vogel needs to be careful not to overthink the situation. Don’t rock the boat and make changes after the team just played their best two games of the playoffs. Here are four reasons why the Lakers should start Dwight Howard:
1. Howard’s a Better Defensive Matchup Against Adebayo!
While he is not the 3-point threat Nikola Jokic was, Miami’s Bam Adebayo presents similar defensive problems as a scorer, rebounder, and passer, posting 32 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 assists in the Boston close out game. Stopping Adebayo is the Lakers top priority as Bam dominated the Eastern Conference Finals, averaging a team-best 21.8 points, team-best 11.0 rebounds, and team-best 5.2 assists in team-high 39.1 minutes per game.
Bam is the offensive engine that powers the Heat’s game and that’s why the Lakers would be smart to use the same strategy they used to stop Jokic and start Howard and have him on the floor whenever Adebayo’s in the game. Howard posted a team-best defensive rating of 100.0 in the Nuggets series in 20.2 minutes per game, dramatically better than the 110.5 defensive rating posted by JaVale McGee in the 7.6 minutes per game he played.
Just four wins from their 17th NBA championship, the Lakers should keep the same starting lineup that shut down Nikola Jokic in the conference finals and start Dwight Howard to defend Bam Adebayo in the NBA Finals,
2. The Lakers’ Offense Runs Better with Howard at Center!
Neither Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee are going to score many points or dish out many assists from the center position but the screens they set and offensive rebounds they grab can be critical to the Lakers’ offense working. Howard was a key component to the Lakers’ offensive success against the Nuggets, posting a team-best 123.5 offensive rating for the series compared to JaVale McGee’s 97.4 offensive rating for 7.6 minutes per game played.
Unlike the Nuggets’ Jokic, the Heat’s Bam Adebayo is a excellent defensive rebounder, good team defender, and elite rim protector as he showed with his great game-saving block against Jayson Tatum in the conference finals. The Lakers will need Dwight Howard’s physical screen setting, aggressive offensive rebounding, and dominating power dunking off lobs to keep Bam Adebayo busy defensively and prevent him from defending Anthony Davis.
Starting Dwight will make the Lakers’ offense run better as the Heat will have to focus on keeping him off the boards and preventing him from getting easy dunks off lobs when LeBron or Rondo penetrate the paint.
3. Starting Howard Will Force Miami To Adjust Lineups!
The Miami Heat would love the Lakers to go small with Anthony Davis at the five and Markieff Morris at the four, which would enable them to have Adebayo guard Davis, Crowder guard James, and Robinson defend Morris. What they don’t want is the Lakers to start Howard because that’s going to expose Robinson and force them to replace him with Olynyk or Iguodala in the starting lineup to matchup against the Lakers big-three front court.
But replacing Robinson with Iguodala or Olynyk doesn’t eliminate the matchup nightmare created by Howard. Starting Dwight puts the Heat in a bind. Who does Bam Adebayo cover? Anthony Davis or Dwight Howard? There’s no way Robinson, Crowder, and Adedayo can defend James, Davis, and Howard. The Heat could go small and try to play McGee off the floor but Howard’s elite physicality and athleticism would force them to adjust.
Starting Dwight will give the Lakers a James, Davis, and Howard front court whose athleticism and physicality will create an absolute nightmare matchup and force the Heat to change their lineups and rotations.
4. Howard Will Be More Likely To Re–Sign Next Season!
The Lakers need to think about their future. Dwight Howard’s emergence in the playoffs as a major difference maker changes the dynamic for next season, especially in light of JaVale McGee’s continued diminished performances. Dwight’s an unrestricted free agent this offseason and there’s already rumors of the Boston Celtics offering him their MLE and a chance to start. Vogel starting Dwight in the Finals could be the key to him re-signing.
While the Lakers may still have their eye on DeMarcus Cousins as their perfect starting center for next season, there’s also no question Howard has shown he can still be an elite defensive center as well as a great teammate. Dwight deserves the opportunity to start in the NBA Finals and hopefully Frank Vogel and his staff see that and understand how the decision whether to start him or JaVale McGee could determine his future as a Laker.
The Lakers would be smart to stick with the lineup that won them the Western Conference Finals and start Dwight Howard at center. It’s the kind of move that could convince Dwight Howard to finish his career as a Laker.