While the Lakers seemed to have turned a corner with their performances against the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder and the New Orleans Hornets, they took a major step back from what progress was made during this stretch with their deflating loss against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday.
The improvements they made with chemistry and team ball within the last week became stagnate. The re-aggravation of Dwight Howard’s shoulder on Wednesday made this regression worse.
The Lakers still have a lot of work to due as they aren’t in playoff position yet. With the annual Grammy road trip now one game in, the fans will see how their recent progress transfers to the road, where they have been dismal this season. The road trip has not started off in the right way, so it becomes about how the team responds. On the road the team must come together, probably even more than when playing at home. Leadership will have an enormous impact during the next six games away from LA.
Some very optimistic news is that Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard are “on the same page” as far as vision and goals and how to get there. This has been a long time coming and has a lot to do with the recent progress with chemistry and performance. It will be absolutely necessary for the present mindset (Kobe) and the hopeful future mindset (Dwight) to be connection and in-line with one another to keep pushing for that playoff spot and to getting the team back on track.
As Dwight Howard recently told reporters:
“I’m happy that me and Kobe are getting on the same page,” Howard said. “In order for us to win, me and him have to always be together on the same page. We have to really lead this team. I think that’s the key right there.
“It’s a process. It’s always been a process. It wasn’t an easy one because we’re both two big dogs and we bump heads. Instead of us bumping heads, we can both do things to lead this team. Offensively, he’s going to lead our team, and on the defensive end it’s my job. So we all have different roles, but we all have one common goal and we have to be together for us to succeed.”
Anyone who is familiar with Kobe Bryant and his leadership knows that he is a results driven leader. He is unafraid to get into a teammates’ face in order to push them to their limits. Some may find his leadership style hard to deal with, but truthfully that push is necessary at times. With Dwight, who can be too happy go lucky and laid back at times, Kobe’s confrontational leadership is the right approach.
Earlier this week Kobe said the following on “Max & Marcellus” on ESPNLA 710:
“You have to create conflict and confrontation. A lot of times when you have people that are in those positions, everybody is kind of tiptoeing around each other, everybody is afraid to rub each other the wrong way and you wind up not advancing, you wind up being counterproductive, so you really have to challenge each other.”
Dwight needs that push and tough-love approach to drive him to become the player we all know he can be. However, Howard can learn from Kobe’s recent on-court performance as well. After all, Kobe has pretty much seen and experienced it all in the NBA. He knows what works and what doesn’t. We heard from Dwight himself last week that he understands that he can be a dominate player and impact the game in countless ways other than receiving offensive touches.
We have seen some of the most impressive performances by Kobe Bryant over the past few games. Kobe has sacrificed his shooting attempts in order to become the facilitator. Too often in the first half of the season and in the fourth quarter of the Phoenix game, there was too much standing around and what is aptly called, Kobe watching. Energy was low. Ball movement was lacking. Chemistry was nonexistent. Kobe said himself that “something has to change.” Instead of waiting for management to make a move, Kobe took it upon himself as a leader to change his approach.
Kobe is doing a tremendous job at initiating ball movement. What used to be forced shots or even iso-shots are now sequences of Kobe making the extra pass. As a lovely affect of Kobe’s newfound focus, moving the ball is becoming contagious with his teammates. In fact, in the Utah, OKC and New Orleans games, ball movement has never been better in years in my opinion. It has all started with Kobe and his facilitating on offense.
Dwight can take a page out of Kobe’s book and apply it to the defense. The truth of the matter is that Howard is the defensive anchor of the team. For example, when he re-injured his shoulder in Phoenix and came out of the game, the team became deflated, especially on defense. Dwight has the ability to set the tone on the defensive end, just as Kobe does on the offensive end. Defense as all about effort, accountability and commitment by all five players on the court. Kobe is leading by example as a facilitator on the offense. Dwight has every ability (100 percent healthy or not) to lead by example of the defensive end.
After a disappointing loss, the Lakers must find a way to regroup and return to what was successful for them during the previous three games. Sacrificing individual stats and egos for team ball and for the good of the team has had the most impact to the Lakers as of late. The team leaders must continue to emphasize these points of focus for the Lakers to make it to the playoffs. With Kobe and Dwight setting the tone and leading by example with their respective strengths, the entire Lakers team will be influenced and rise to the occasion as a collective unit. Let’s all hope Dwight is cleared by the medical staff to do just that.