The noise level will rise once the Lakers take center stage in their season opener on Tuesday at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant will play in his first regular-season game since suffering a season-ending left knee injury nearly 10 months ago. Byron Scott will coach the Lakers for the first game that matters, bringing full circle an NBA career that included winning three championships with the Showtime Lakers. Lakers guard Jeremy Lin will face his former team that traded him this offseason in a salary dump. And the Lakers’ recent top nemesis will emerge, Dwight Howard’s presence likely elicited rounds of boos and jeers after leaving unceremoniously two summers ago.
Lakers coach Byron Scott hardly addressed these topics with his teams, believing doing so just makes feeds into such storylines. But he talked plenty to the ones that always remain interested in such subjects.
“I don’t know what Dwight’s motivation is,” Scott said. “But if I’m guessing, I’m sure he would love to play and beat the crap out of us and have a great game.”
Howard has already faced the Lakers four times since leaving them. But this will mark the first time Kobe Bryant and Howard step on the court together in opposing uniforms. Bryant shattered his left Achilles tendon on April 13, 2013 just before the NBA playoffs started. Once Bryant returned, Howard had already left.
“My outside perspective is Kobe is a real serious guy and wants to win championships,” Scott said. “I don’t know if Dwight is that serious about it. I know No. 24 is and that probably was the clash.”
It’s been dissected plenty. But Bryant and Howard clashed plenty during their lone season with the Lakers. The issues included Bryant’s demanding leadership style, Howard’s outgoing personality, Bryant’s high-volume shooting and Howard’s inconsistency as he labored through recent back surgery.
“I can’t really speak on behalf of the differences were in their relationship,” said Lakers guard Jeremy Lin, who played with Howard last season and has gushed about Bryant’s mentorship this year. “One thing I heard from both ends is that he came back a little too early and wasn’t able to be himself.”
Bryant acknowledged the “tension” he and Howard had. But Bryant hardly sounded interested in going down memory lane. So much that he dismissed any notion that this game meant something more because of Howard’s presence.
“Why would it?” Bryant said, rhetorically.
It seemed to mean plenty to Howard last season when he revisited Staples Center.
Howard embarrassed the Lakers with countless dunks, putbacks and post moves in the Lakers’ 134-108 loss on Feb. 19, 2014, answering the stream of boos every time he touched the ball with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
“It wasn’t like this was the only place he got booed,” Lin said. “He got booed in a lot of places. He took it all in stride and had a smile on his face. I respect him for that. I really do. It’s easy for everyone to shout and jab at him about different things. But to deal with it at every road game, I was impressed with how he handled it.”
And it’s something Bryant expects Howard will try to replicate.
Said Bryant: “He’ll go out there and try to do the best he can.”