Prior to the Philadelphia 76ers beginning their opening-round playoff series against the Washington Wizards with a 125-118 win on Sunday, veteran center Dwight Howard spoke to Heavy about his postseason journey.
While this has been one of the most unusual and stressful seasons in NBA history, Howard, at age 35, has put together one of the strongest campaigns — at least, on a per-48-minute basis — of his career. Howard said he’s laser-focused on taking on the Wizards (he played nine games for Washington in 2018-19) during the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, however, there’s yet another former team of his that could threaten the Sixers’ run to a title.
Looking ahead, there’s a chance Howard could wind up facing the Los Angeles Lakers, the team which he and teammate Danny Green helped win it all last season. The idea of playing the LeBron James and the Lakers at “the top of the mountain,” as Howard put it, only put a smile on the eight-time All-Star’s face.
“That would be great,” Howard said. “But you can’t look too far down the road. You gotta stay right with what’s right in front of you. Right now, what’s in front of us is the Washington Wizards. We can’t overlook this team. We have to respect our opponent.”
“A lot of people say like ‘Man, I wanna beat those guys in the Finals,’ and stuff like that,” Howard said of taking on the Lakers. “But it would be great you know, at the top of the mountain, to face our former team, but until we get to that mountain top … Gotta start at the bottom and get to the top.”
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Howard Says Joel Embiid Started Playing Basketball After Watching Him & Kobe Bryant Play in NBA Finals
Howard has proudly taken on his role as the backup to Sixers starting center Joel Embiid – his second season consistently coming off the bench after spending 13 years as a starter. While the transition from logging 28-plus minutes per night to being one of the key second-unit players could be tough for many NBA players, the former No. 1 overall pick explained that it’s been an enriching journey.
“[Embiid] told me he started playing basketball by playing watching myself and Kobe and all those guys in the finals,” Howard said, recalling the 2009 NBA Championship series when he and the Orlando Magic took on Bryant and the Lakers. Los Angeles ultimately won the title in five games.
Howard went on to play alongside Bryant after joining the Lakers for the 2012-2013 NBA season. While there were high expectations for the superstar duo, it turned out to be a disappointing year for both Howard and the Lakers. Howard went from averaging 20.6 points and 14.5 rebounds per game to 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds per game, and the Lakers, who went 45-37 in the regular season, were swept in the first round of the playoffs.
As fate would have it, Howard returned to the Lakers for the 2019-2020 season, where after 16 years in the NBA, he finally earned his first championship ring. Now, in his 17th NBA season, Howard is looking for a repeat NBA Finals appearance with the Sixers.
“All the little things [Embiid] has told me about watching me play growing up gives me more motivation to be the best teammate I can be for Joel and my teammates,” Howard said.
If this sounds like an all-new Dwight Howard experience, well, it is. Howard previously had a problematic reputation both on and off the court, but now he only exudes positivity and gratitude. As an ambassador of the Pixstory app, Howard exhibits an outlook on life that can only be earned through experience.
“Hate only begets more hate,” Howard said. “We should celebrate every day that we have on this Earth. You know, we don’t know how long we’re going to be here. You don’t know when it’s going to be our time up from this beautiful place.”