For the first time in the 2020 playoffs, Lakers center Dwight Howard will start Thursday in a pivotal Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in the 2020 playoffs, Lakers center Dwight Howard will start tonight in a pivotal Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, per Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic (Twitter link). This also marks only Howard’s third start for the Lakers in the 2019-20 season overall. Los Angeles leads Denver 2-1. The official game broadcast is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. CST.

Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register tweets that Lakers coach Frank Vogel still wants Howard to minimize fouling as he guards All-Star Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. Howard is averaging 4.3 fouls per game for the series. The more athletic Howard’s ability to pester Jokic and impede his passing likely earned him the nod over normal starting center JaVale McGee.

Howard started at center over McGee in the second half of Game 3 on Tuesday, a 114-106 loss for the Lakers. Goon noted in an article yesterday that the Lakers are scoring at a +20 plus-minus pace over Denver across Howard’s 43 minutes in the series, and -11 during McGee’s 31 minutes.

The last time McGee was benched in these playoffs, forward Markieff Morris started at center in his stead during the final two games of the Lakers’ second-round matchup with the Rockets. Howard played for just two games of that five-game playoff series.

The 34-year-old Howard, a former three-time Defensive Player of the Year and eight-time All-Star, is in his second stint with the Lakers on a veteran’s minimum contract. He last played in the purple and gold during a tumultuous 2012-13 season, alongside fellow All-Stars Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash.

This article first appeared on Hoops Rumors and was syndicated with permission.

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