Dwight Howard used psychological warfare against Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic wasn’t quite the same monster in the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers as he was the series before against the Clippers. Dwight Howard thinks a lot of that has to do with the mental games he played with his opponent.
Howard joined Etan Thomas’ podcast “The Rematch” for an interview and talked about the tactics he used to get in Jokic’s head.
“Well, the crazy part about it is that we were all staying in the same hotel,” Howard said, via Lakers Daily. “For me, I just felt like it was mental warfare and I wanted to get in his head in any way possible. 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 (Jokic), I would be like, ‘You ready for the game tonight? You ready for tonight?’”
Howard shared with Thomas the reason why he wanted to mess with Jokic.
“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.”
Howard believes that his work was done after the second game of the Western Conference Finals. By then, he had already established himself with Jokic and messed with the Nuggets big man enough where he could tone down the talking.
“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.”
Jokic averaged 26.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game in the Nuggets’ series against the Jazz. He averaged 24.4 points, 13.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game against the Clippers. But against the Lakers, Jokic averaged 21.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. He and the Nuggets were probably gassed after coming back to beat the Clippers in seven games, but maybe Howard’s strong play had a little bit to do with Jokic not dominating to quite the same extent.
Even with Howard being a self-anointed Jokic stopper, that wasn’t enough for the Lakers to bring him back. They slow-played Howard, so the center ended up signing with Philadelphia.