Lakers: Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo are the unlikely X-factors

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo are unlikely X-factors for the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

When the Los Angeles Lakers brought back Rajon Rondo and signed Dwight Howard to veteran minimum contracts this past summer it was mainly scoffed at.  No one could have projected the impact they would have on the team during their playoff run that has led them to a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals.

Lakers fans might’ve thought they were dreaming when Rondo threw a massive lob from the 3-point line as Dwight Howard soared over Jokić for the dunk to give the Lakers a 88 – 71 lead late in the third quarter.

However, if they had been paying attention to the way Rondo has played in the last series and how Dwight played pretty much all season, then they probably were not all that surprised.

Yet what makes their performances even more impressive is that they were able to stay ready for this moment after not playing for a stretch.

Rondo is playing his best basketball in the playoffs after sitting out a good portion at the start of the season and getting injured early on in the bubble in Orlando. The Lakers are five and one in the playoff games that he has played in.

Dwight also looks like has not missed a beat after sitting on the bench for most of the Rockets’ small ball series.

After playing 15 minutes total in the entire last series, Howard played 16 minutes off the bench in game one against the Denver Nuggets. What stood out from his play was his physicality, instant energy, and great defense on Nikola Jokić which included two blocks and two blocks overall.

After the game Howard had plenty to say about how competitive the matchup between him and Jokic was in game one and will be moving forward, saying (h/t Harrison Faigen, Silver Screen and Roll),

"“Well he’s an awesome player and I loved watching his growth from when he came into the league until now. For me, as soon as I step on the court, I want to let him know that I’m there. Since we’re staying at the same hotel, I might meet him right outside his room and let him know that for the rest of the series I’m gonna be right there, locked on to you. It’s not nothing bad, it’s just competitive spirit inside of me. I appreciate his hard work and dedication to the game, and this is a great opportunity for myself, so I’m going to take advantage of any moment that I have on the floor, and give my teammates and Laker Nation 110 percent.”"

That effort and physical play lead to him getting Jokić in foul trouble, which was key in getting him and their team out of an early offensive rhythm they had going. He ended up drawing even more fouls that gave three Nuggets starters their third foul and sent Jokić, Jamal Murray, and Paul Millsap to the bench in the first half.

Here is a better visual interpretation of Dwight’s play in Game 1.

Rondo’s impact on the other hand was felt more on the offensive end of the floor, and was the floor general off the bench. He finished the game with 7 points, 9 assists, and one over the backboard shot that looked like vintage Boston Rondo.

Another key thing both of them have been able to do, is help get Anthony Davis comfortable on the floor.

Rondo helps Davis by getting him the ball in the right spots from the chemistry they built from playing together in New Orleans. Howard helps AD by allowing Davis to play his more preferred power forward position and passes off the Jokić matchup on to Howard when they are on the court together.

Davis is going to have to be the best version of himself if the Lakers want to reach their ultimate goal, so having veteran role players that can help him mentally and on the court is important.

Yet what has been their biggest issue late in their careers, especially with the Lakers, has been playing well consistently. At this point, you never know which version of Rondo or Dwight the Lakers will get game to game.

One thing they know they will get with both of them though is effort and grittiness that this Lakers team has lacked at times this season. When Howard and Rondo are on the floor, they definitely do not lack that sense of urgency or toughness.

Howard and Rondo’s play the rest of the playoffs will be important to the Lakers’ chances, and if they keep this level of play up, it is hard to see them not winning a title in Orlando. Right now it seems as if winning is the only thing on their mind, that and their goal to get Howard’s first and Rondo’s second championship, capping off two spectacular careers.

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Then both of their careers will have somewhat come full circle. Howard could be winning a title in the city where he lost his first Championship, and Rondo could win one with the team that he beat in his first title and lost to in his second Finals appearance.