Though the prevailing theme in the Lakers’ latest travels was Howard’s return to Orlando, something much greater can be taken away from this: Dwight and Kobe Bryant are fine. They’re more than fine. They’re together.
On the heels of the Black Mamba admitting to the NBA sphere that he and Howard weren’t best friends, the championship jeers couldn’t have come at a better time. Not that Bryant’s sentiments were discouraging. They were the exact opposite. The latest is even more encouraging, though.
As Howard was in the middle of his 39-point, 16-rebound outburst, he was taunted by the unrelenting Orlando faithful. One fine fan even yelled to Howard that he couldn’t win without Kobe, to which Dwight responded “That’s true” (via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times):
Courtside Magic fans try to antagonize Dwight: “You can’t win without Kobe!” Dwight’s response: “That’s true.”
— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) March 13, 2013
In two words, Howard instills further hope in the Lakers. Hope that he and Kobe are, in fact, on the same page, and hope that he will remain with the team beyond this season.
Are we reading a bit too much into this?
Perhaps, except we’re not.
This isn’t an iron clad guarantee that Howard re-signs, yet it is further evidence that he and Bryant don’t just respect and tolerate one another, but know they need each other. With egos as big as these two have, that’s no small feat. And their acceptance of their dependence on one another means nothing but good things for the Lakers.
This team was always going to go as far as both Dwight and Kobe could carry them. Not one or the other, but both. Howard needed to protect the rim and cover up the flaws of a deficient defensive attack while Bryant needed to do what he’s been doing for nearly 20 years—score. And they both had to understand that they could lean on the other if needed, which they now do.
Take the victory over the Magic. Bryant had just 11 points and his shot wasn’t falling (4-of-14). Instead of forcing the action, he (and the rest of the Lakers) opted to feed Howard down low early and often. The result? A career night for Howard, who tied his own NBA record of 39 attempted free throws, making a personal best of 25. Bryant finished with eight assists, and the Lakers subsequently won.
It was hardly fantastic to look at (you would have liked to have seen Los Angeles put away Orlando from the beginning), but it was enough. Kobe and Dwight’s collective efforts were enough.
They’re relationship, they’re mutual appreciation for each other, it’s all finally enough. By Howard setting (reinforcing?) that precedent with his response to a scathing fan, he led the Lakers to a much greater victory than their win over the Magic.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.