HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — One of the subplots of the Los Angeles Lakers’ acquisition of Dwight Howard was the contrast in personalities between the Lakers’ two biggest stars.
Howard is somewhat of a goofball, easy-going and known to smile on the court. Kobe Bryant is the exact opposite. The Lakers are as talented as any team in the league, but we weren’t quite sure how it would all come together, both on the floor and in the locker room.
Bryant’s frustration was apparent long before his final exit: He got into it with referee Ed Malloy after being called for a charge in the second quarter; he punched the ball inbounds rather than passed it when there was less than a second left in the third quarter; and he was caught on camera staring down coach Mike Brown when he was sitting on the bench during a timeout in the waning moments of the fourth.
Howard said after the game the Lakers would be better off bottling up those negative emotions.
“I think sometimes as a team we got to be able to not really show our frustrations that much,” Howard said after L.A. fell to 1-12 with their preseason record included. “A lot of the guys look at me and Kobe and they feed off us, so we have to do a better job of keeping our frustrations on the inside and just playing through it so our teammates won’t get down on themselves. So, we just got to do a better job at that.
“I know [Kobe] was a little frustrated tonight. He wants to win just as bad as all of us do, but we just got to stay together, remember it’s a process, and stay focused.”
There’s nothing here to suggest that there’s a problem between Bryant and Howard. But it’s a situation that’s worth keeping an eye on, especially if the Lakers continue to struggle.
There’s no easy diagnosis for L.A.’s problems at this point. In previous losses, defense was the problem. But on Wednesday, they couldn’t score against a Utah team that isn’t so great defensively.
We do know that the bench is an issue, as evidenced by the team’s cumulative plus-minus numbers. The four guys who have started every gam — Bryant, Howard, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace — are a plus-39 together in 124 minutes, strong on both ends of the floor (though those numbers are a bit skewed by Sunday’s blowout of the Pistons).
It would certainly help if Steve Nash was healthy. Nash not only has the skills to get the offense going, but he has the temperament to provide a bridge between Bryant’s intensity and Howard’s nonchalance.