The words may have stung, but Dwight Howard didn’t allow it to hurt him.
Instead, Kobe Bryant confronted him in an air-it-out meeting last week, something that has given Howard a new-found perspective on how he should play with the Lakers.
“I love it,” Howard said. “That’s something we needed. A lot of times we have a lot of guys come together and nobody wants to step on anybody’s toes or do anything against anybody else. We want to win. In order for us to win, we have to pull the best out of each other every night.”
The Lakers have done that, entering Tuesday’s game against the New Orleans Hornets with a two-game winning streak featuring a myriad of roles that Bryant describes as “upside-down.” Bryant has gone from shooter to passer. Steve Nash has gone from passer to shooter. Pau Gasol has gone from perimeter forward to backup center. And Howard has embraced taking ownership on defense while worrying little about his offensive output.
“We all know Kobe is the first option,” Howard said. “Whoever scores after that doesn’t matter. The defensive end is where I take lead and make sure I hold guys accountable and make sure do my job in being active.”
Both Howard and Bryant have refused to talk about the specifics of their meeting. But it mostly rested on Howard needing to gripe less about his secondary offensive role and how he can lead the team on defense.
How much of an adjustment period did it take for Howard to accept that role?
“It wasn’t an easy one. We’re both two big dogs and we bump heads,” Howard said. “Instead of us bumping heads, we can do things to lead this team offensively. He’s going to lead our team. On the defensive end, it’s my job. We all have different roles. We all have one common goal. We have to be together in order for us to succeed.”
To win, Bryant has argued the need to have a culture that’s “confrontational.”
“You can’t just sweep things under the rug all the time. They don’t get better by doing it. You have to be able to confront things when you’re able to challenge each other,” Bryant said. “At the same time, we understand we love each other and care for each other. That’s crucial.”
The Lakers have shown that in the past few games.
Bryant has bristled at Nash for passing up shots and at Metta World Peace for clogging the lane. When players have fallen on the floor, teammates immediately pick them up. Bryant and Howard have shared high fives after making crucial plays.
“I’m happy me and Kobe are getting on the same page,” Howard said. “In order for us to win, me and him have to be together and on the same page. We have to lead this team.”
Even if it means butting heads and arguing.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org