Image: Jared Wickerham | Getty Images
Photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Despite Dwight Howard’s return to the lineup, the red-hot Celtics rout the Lakers. Here are a few takeaways from the Lakers-Celtics game:

Dwight Howard did not show up to play.

It’s no surprise that Dwight Howard, after being sidelined for 3 games, looked rusty. With his return, the Lakers offensive attack was out of sync and showed a lack of defensive urgency. The Lakers shot 41% and doled out only 16 assists, while allowing the Celtics to rack up 116 points on 53% shooting. Some credit should be given to Boston’s tough defense, which swarmed Howard in the first half and ran a help defender at Kobe early in his isolation sets.

Regardless if Howard felt compelled to return to the lineup tonight to silence the public scrutiny he’s received for sitting out the past three games, it’s clear that he is nowhere close to 100%, mentally or physically. At this point in the season, every game is important, and tonight’s game should be a red flag there are still a number of on-court (and off-court) problems to iron out if the Lakers are truly serious about making a run at the playoffs.

Kobe Bryant looked to shoot, but only after passing wasn’t an option.

The story so far this season has been that when Kobe passes, everyone is happy and the Lakers win. Tonight, Kobe didn’t log a single dime and the Lakers were blown out. He was efficient from the field, shooting 9/15 and scoring 27 points. Unfortunately, he couldn’t shoot his team out of its slump against the seemingly perfect Celtics.

Since he only shot 15 times, fans shouldn’t be worried about Bryant regressing from the facilitator role. Against the Celtics, he regularly looked for Howard and his teammates early and often. But the shots simply weren’t falling for his teammates, and only then did he truly start to take over scoring responsibility. Simply put, the Lakers just had a bad shooting night.

The Celtics took advantage of a Pau-less Lakers team on the ropes.

With Dwight Howard unable to will his team on either end of the court, it’s obvious that these Lakers cannot win without Pau Gasol. Whether he comes off the bench or starts next to Dwight Howard, his versatile skillset and intelligence makes the Lakers so much more effective and efficient.

Pau’s injury was a gift to Doc Rivers and the Celtics, and their game plan became simpler: trap Kobe (which they always do every time these teams meet) and force Dwight Howard into becoming a playmaker (which he isn’t). Without Pau Gasol to relieve pressure from Bryant and Dwight, the Celtics defense collapsed in the paint, forcing the Lakers to win the game on the perimeter (and 21% 3PT shooting isn’t going to do it).

D’Antoni’s choice to leave Howard in the game after it was out of reach.

It definitely is a head-scratcher. As spectators, it’s easy to pick apart decisions made by the coach, and most of us usually don’t know enough about what’s going on courtside to really warrant such complaints. However, when the opposing team has a 30-point lead in the fourth quarter and the game has essentially been decided, it’s probably best to rest your injured center instead of putting him at risk by keeping him on the floor.

Who knows why D’Antoni decided to keep Howard in, but Howard’s exit plan, also known as “fouling out”, seemed to be a message to the coach that he was done playing in this game.

KG’s 25k points: Bad game for Lakers fans, but good for NBA fans.

Midway through the second quarter, Kevin Garnett became the 16th player in NBA history to score 25,000 points. While the Celtics can’t boast a 30,000 point scorer like the Lakers, Garnett joins an elite group of players that have truly dedicated themselves to the game of basketball. Known more as a defensive specialist than an offensive powerhouse, this milestone speaks volumes of Garnett’s ability to extend his career and cements his legacy as one of the best two-way big men to play the game.

And, given the history between these two teams and how this season has played out, it shouldn’t surprise any Lakers fans that a Celtics player set a new record on a night when the Lakers fell flat.