Dwight Howard explains how he inflicted psychological warfare on Nikola Jokic during conference finals

Brad Sullivan
4 Min Read

Former Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard’s contributions were limited during the 2019-20 season, but his ability to get in the head of Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic during the Western Conference finals helped neutralize the big man.

Howard was interviewed by Etan Thomas on the latter’s podcast, “The Rematch,” and spoke of the subtle psychological warfare he inflicted on Jokic while in the NBA bubble.

“Well, the crazy part about it is that we were all staying in the same hotel,” Howard said. “For me, I just felt like it was mental warfare and I wanted to get in his head in any way possible. So, their meal room was actually across the hallway from our meal room. So, we saw them every day and I would go in there and I would speak to everybody. And every time I saw the Joker, I would be like, ‘You ready for the game tonight? You ready for tonight?’”

In addition to messing with Jokic’s mind, Howard also brought an aggressive approach to the court, which resulted in Jokic collecting a total of 23 fouls in the five-game series.

“Yeah. I was just trying to get in his head because I think he’s a really good player and sometimes the battle is won off the court,” Howard said. “That was the biggest thing; I just wanted to get in his head. I knew he was a key for them to win the championship and he got them there. So, my thing was to be physical with him. Get in his head and push him around a little bit.

“Then actually after Game 2, we were [watching] film and Coach (Frank Vogel) said, ‘Alright, you did a lot, you’re already in his head. Now, you don’t have to say anything to him.’ So, after that the second game, I didn’t even talk no more, I just was quiet, and he was already done for. Every time I stood up on the bench, he was looking over there; every time he got ready to go into the game, I would run to the scorer’s table just to tell him, ‘Hey, every time you get in, I’m right here with you.’ And it worked out great for our team and also myself. It was very tough because that was a different role for me, so I’m glad I had the opportunity to learn from that and it worked out well.”

That five-game victory over the Nuggets subsequently led to the Lakers capturing their first NBA title in a decade by defeating the Miami Heat in six games.

Though there were early reports that Howard would re-sign with the Lakers, he ended up moving on to play for the Philadelphia 76ers, ending his second one-year stint in Los Angeles.

Howard’s first time with the Lakers went miserably for the veteran, while this one helped earn him a championship ring. That’s one reason why he now revels in how his mental approach played a part in his earning that ring.

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Brad is a freelance writer for LakersDaily.com, who can clearly recall watching Lakers games in 1972 as they captured the first of their 11 Los Angeles-based titles. The franchise's evolution into a beloved and iconic franchise among its fan base since that memorable year allows for a wider perspective to be a part of his writing about the team's current fortunes.