Ovie Soko says a resurgent Dwight Howard is helping to make Western Conference leaders Los Angeles Lakers a terrifying defensive force.
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Howard a man on a mission for Lakers
I said it early with the Lakers! I said it early! Some people might have called me crazy! The Lakers are a different animal. They are terrifying defensively. They lead the league in blocks, they are forcing turnovers and they have two very strong units.
We have to talk about Dwight Howard! He is bringing so much energy and that extra defensive presence. He and Javale McGee are a defensive nightmare for the Lakers' opponents. They'll push you around and give you a couple of bumps and bruises. They're out-of-this-world athletic and make people think twice about driving to the basket.
I like Howard's mindset and his focus coming back this time around. He has had a little time away from the game and he has come back locked in. He looks like a man on a mission ready to do whatever the Lakers need.
In this shape, Howard would be a great addition to any team. The Lakers get to team him up with LeBron and Anthony Davis. Three former No 1 draft picks on one team.
They are such a scary defensive team. You've got Avery Bradley out there too - defense is his MO. Most of the time people will look at Anthony Davis and LeBron on the offensive end as they command the most attention but defensively the Lakers have shown that, come playoffs, they will be able to get stops.
The Lakers are going to be menace all season long. I think they will cruise into the playoffs.
Sixers step up in absence of 'showman' Embiid
Joel Embiid is one of those controversial NBA characters. I don't think he is a favourite among his peers, as far as NBA big men go. Just ask Karl-Anthony Towns!
Embiid isn't afraid to show how he feels. He is a showman and he is a damn good player.
With Embiid suspended, the Sixers lost their unbeaten record to my beloved Suns which I'm pretty happy about but generally speaking, you're going to lose games in the NBA. The game the Sixers dropped to Phoenix was a close one.
In the games Embiid missed, the Sixers showed they can pick up the slack when he is not there. Their other starters exceeded their season averages in those games and bench guys like Mike Scott did a great job. They've allowed Philly to not miss Embiid as much as people might have expected they would.
The Sixers have shown they are going rebound every single night, they are going to force turnovers. They hang their hat on defense - first in the league in steals, seventh in blocks (per NBA.com/stats). They are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and that is going to bring them success down the stretch.
Rookie Matisse Thybulle has fallen into the perfect defensive scheme in Philly. They've got a lot of taller guys that are interchangeable on the defensive end and Thybulle fits naturally into the mould of their defense. They are very active, they get into passing lanes and they come up with a lot of steals.
The Sixers are built for the postseason. When you have a team that is defensively strong and you see how they are able to translate that into points on the offensive end, that shows you they don't have to depend on having a good shooting night to win like so many of the other teams.
Heat and Butler the perfect marriage; rookie stars thriving
The Miami Heat are rolling right now. The Heat are playing like the third-best team in the East and things are clicking for them at the moment.
They've beaten a Rockets team that can score, they've got a win over Giannis and the Bucks. You have to respect those performances. They've already beaten two teams we know will be in the playoffs.
Their two rookies, Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn, have been huge. I love Herro, I love his game. He is aggressive and I feel like he has been a bit of a revelation. I don't think the Heat expected that level of production from him this quickly. He has been lights-out from preseason and it has carried over. I'm sure Miami are thrilled with him. Along with Nunn, Miami have two building blocks. I love the dynamic with those two.
Then you have Jimmy Butler who fits naturally into a leadership role. He's providing a different type of leadership than Dwyane Wade did there for all those years but Butler's 'old school' type of leadership will be good for a young team. His performance against Atlanta (five points, 11 assists) showed you where his heart is. He is leading Miami in assists for the season.
Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra embody high standards, they know what needs to be done to win. They know how important it is to build a winning mentality and doing things the right way. Butler is one of the best guys for that and I think he has really found a home in Miami. It's a perfect marriage. He shares the same values as the guys above him and that's important when you want to move forward.
I've played against Luka Doncic and I've seen him up close. His poise is unbelievable. Mentally, he plays like someone who has been in the NBA for 15 years. His basketball IQ is unbelievable. You saw that in his 31-point triple-double with 15 assists in that overtime thriller against the Lakers last Friday night. His IQ enables him to make the right decisions on a consistent basis.
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Look at it this way, Doncic has started off the season averaging 26.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 9.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game (per nba.com/stats). The Mavericks are currently fourth in the West on the back of those numbers. That's worth a place in the early MVP discussion.
I'm not saying Doncic is going to be the MVP. Let's slow down, that would be a bit wild to say at this early stage. But what is undeniable is that he is a very special player.
I'm keen to see how Dallas can continue to build around him and Kristaps Porzingis. The Mavericks are a team definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Read more from Ovie Soko throughout the season as part of Sky's best-ever NBA offering, which will include 134 live games and a record 48 games in weekend primetime slots.
You can also catch over on the debut episode of Sky Sports Heatcheck, a weekly NBA show live on Sky Sports' Youtube channel at 5:30pm on Tuesday evening.