Dwight Howard bound from the tunnel, the Lakers behind him, the team’s newly minted starting center leading the title favorites on the court.
He smiled his way through warmups, the sadness that enveloped him off the court a memory as he floated through the air for a 360-degree layup that he gleefully flipped off the backboard.
The shot never had a chance.
But if coach Frank Vogel hadn’t pulled the trigger on the long-pondered decision to put Howard into the starting lineup, the Lakers might not have survived Denver’s first-half blitz. And they might not have sustained a 114-108 win in a game they led for the final 40 minutes straight.