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Howard says difference between Lakers, Clippers is 'they share ball'

By Royce Young | NBA writer

"Hey, what's this in my hands?" (Getty Images)

Sometimes, we're all a little guilty of reading too much between the lines, trying to pick something up from an otherwise harmless quote.

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But with what Dwight Howard said following the Lakers' 107-102 loss to the Clippers on Friday, it's kind of hard not to make an assumption. Via the Associated Press:

"Look at the difference between our team and theirs," Howard said. "They just play together. They share the ball. Everybody's excited when something happens. We have to be like that to be a great team."

The Lakers are 15-17 and 0-2 against the Clippers, so the frustration is to be expected.

But let's look into that quote from Howard. He plays with Steve Nash, who is one of the best creators and assisters (?) of all time. Pau Gasol is renowned for his splendid passing skills as a big man and one of the most unselfish players in the league. And who cares about Metta World Peace, Jodie Meeks or whoever else, because they're not involved offensive weapons.

So that leaves, well, you know who that leaves.

So... what about Kobe then?

Kobe is averaging 21.9 shots per game, 1.1 per game more than No. 2 in the league, Carmelo Anthony. Howard, on the other hand, is averaging 10.8 a game, which is actually just 0.4 a game lower than his career average. But it is about two-and-a-half fewer than he put up last season.

One thing to understand about Kobe, though: Comment on his shooting all you want, but he's having maybe his best season ever. And of everyone on the roster, Kobe very visibly cares. And despite his team falling behind often in the fourth quarter, he has kept the Lakers afloat in a lot of games.

Kobe is shooting a career-high percentage from the floor, is averaging 30.5 points and a career-high 1.4 points per attempt. So it's kind of hard to place much blame on him.

And if Howard really is expecting to see more of the ball, then he's more naive than we thought. He had to know that when he was headed to L.A. to play with Kobe, it would be this way. Not that it's even a bad thing. Kobe has won five rings doing what he does. It's more on Howard to adapt and adjust than it is on Kobe. Kobe fit with Shaq just fine, you know.

The Lakers rank 19th in assists, averaging 21.2. Last season, they did average 1.3 more a game though, ranking sixth. What's changed? If anything, Kobe actually has, because he's attempting 1.1 fewer shots.

In terms of usage, Kobe uses the most possessions in the league, accounting for 30.8 percent of the Lakers' possessions. Again, that's down from 33 percent last season. Howard's usage rate was 23.6 last season in Orlando and is 20.7 this season.

It needs to be noted that Howard might not just be talking about himself here. He probably means that everybody needs to be more involved -- Gasol, Nash, World Peace and Meeks.

Especially Gasol.

Here's what he told reporters last night:

“It's difficult sometimes because it's not up to me to get involved,” Gasol said. “I'm trying, but the times that I am at the elbows are the times that I get more involved and can make more plays from there, but it's not consistent.”

In other words, sounds like he'd appreciate some more sharing too. But he's been around this block before and knows the situation with No. 24.

Howard's no dummy though. He has never played with this much firepower, this much offensive ability. So he surely understands his role has changed with the Lakers, that he's no longer the offensive focus and is more important to their rebounding and defending than anything else.

But when your team is struggling and losing, you're prone to saying things you think sound good. And it's true: The Clippers do share the ball wonderfully (second in the league in assists). But just because a team shares, it doesn't mean they're good. For example, Boston is fifth in assists per game this season and they aren't winning. The Thunder last season ranked last in assists and still had a top-three offense and went to the Finals.

Teams are effective in their own ways. That typically comes from learning and understanding what works best with one another. As Kobe likes to say, it's a "come hell or high water" thing in Los Angeles. Kobe's not going to change. It's his team, his world. He has proven he can be successful this way. It's on the others -- meaning Howard, specifically -- to figure out how he fits in with that.

 
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