Dwight Howard starts for Los Angeles Lakers in win against Denver Nuggets

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Dwight Howard started for the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday against the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals and made an immediate impact.

He scored 12 points and added 11 rebounds in the Lakers' 114-108 win. It was Howard's high in boards this postseason and one off his high in points, and it also marked his first double-double of the playoffs.

Howard did most of his damage early, putting up 8 points and 8 rebounds (including 4 on the offensive glass) in the first quarter, helping L.A. build a 37-30 lead after one.

"Dwight started going to the boards," said Anthony Davis. "Kind of takes a lot of them."

Denver dominated L.A. on the glass 44-25 in Game 3. Howard replaced JaVale McGee in the first unit to begin the second half of that game, but it was too late to turn the tide.

Still, Howard's presence Tuesday, a rambunctious stint when he picked up four fouls in 14 minutes but also tangled with Denver's Nikola Jokic any chance he got, impressed Lakers coach Frank Vogel.

"We lost Game 3. And in the loss, his energy was, to me, infectious," Vogel said Thursday. "We knew what he could do in this matchup. We like to try to start the series with the lineups that we play throughout the season, and then you feel out the series. We know this is something we could always go to."

Howard shot 5-for-6 in Game 4 and added a steal and an assist, while picking up just two fouls. The Lakers outscored the Nuggets by seven in the 23 minutes he was on the court. And L.A. won the battle of the boards 41-33 on the night.

"Dwight was a beast," said LeBron James. "Gave us opportunities when we missed shots ... he was cleaning glass both offensively and defensively. Got us put-backs and was able to control the paint. We know we got smashed in the rebounding category in Game 3, so we wanted to do a better job in that. Dwight brought that physical presence. It was great for our ballclub."

L.A. leads the Nuggets 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. Game 5, which could earn Howard a trip to the NBA finals for the second time of his career and the first since 2009 when he was on the Orlando Magic playing against L.A., is Saturday.