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"I'm happy that me and Kobe, we're getting on the same page," Howard said Tuesday. "In order for us to win, me and him always have to be together on the same page. We really have to lead this team. I think that's the key right there."
Howard couldn't be more right. In the comparatively minor struggles that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade experienced in Miami when the Heat's Big Three first formed, those two contemporaries and friends had to find a way to play together, lead together and sacrifice aspects of their singularly brilliant games. In this case, in the glare of Hollywood, Howard has been asked to step onto Bryant's turf and co-lead Bryant's team, a domain that the greatest player since Michael Jordan has dominated for so long.
"We were two big dogs and we were bumping heads," Howard said. "But instead of us bumping heads, we need to do things to lead this team. Offensively, he's going to lead our team and on the defensive end, that's my job. So we all have different roles, but we all have one common goal: We have to be together in order for us to succeed.
"We both want to win," Howard said. "I understand what he wants; he understands what I want. And in order for us to get it together, we have to be on the same page and we have to think as one and be one on the court. That took some time, but we're getting better at it."
No one is revealing what Bryant and Howard said to each other, what marching orders they exchanged. But the proof is right there in the results. In consecutive wins against Utah and Oklahoma City, the Lakers held both opponents to 95 points or less, and Howard totaled more rebounds (23) than field-goal attempts (19). Bryant recorded more assists than field-goal attempts in each game (totaling 28 and 22, respectively). This has happened five times in Bryant's 1,205 regular season games across 17 seasons, and it has now happened twice in a row.
"I was probably born a scorer, but I was made a winner," Bryant said. "So I figure it out. Whatever works, whatever wins championships, whatever wins games, that's what I do."
So instead of butting heads, Bryant and Howard have put theirs together constructively. It's working, for now. But Howard understands that it's only a start.
"I just want to win; that's it," Howard said. "That's the only thing that matters. And whatever I have to do to help my team win, I'll do it. We all know Kobe's the first option and whoever scores after that, it doesn't matter.
"Most guys who are stars, they're stubborn sometimes," Howard said. "They want things to go their way. They want to take the shot, they want to do this and that. But at the end of the day, we all want to win. We have to take ourselves out of the equation and realize what we're playing for, who we're playing for and go from there."
The airing of grievances Wednesday in Memphis -- the "come to Jesus meeting," as Howard put it -- pointed the Lakers in a new direction. Two straight wins galvanized them. Now comes the hard part: Sustaining it.
"I think we all got to the point where whatever needed to be said was said, but none of the stuff was taken personally," Howard said. "We all want to add another banner up there and all have rings. And in order for us to do that, we all have to do it together. We all have to put all the individual goals that we want aside -- stats, whatever it may be -- we have to throw that out the window and we have to play for each other, play for the Lakers. This is a great opportunity.We cannot play for ourselves, we have to play for each other."
The test of this new Lakers mindset, forged in emotional confrontation and demonstrated for a mere 96 minutes so far, continues Tuesday night against the Hornets before the Lakers embark on a seven-game road trip Wednesday against the Suns -- which, oh, by the way, will mark Steve Nash's first game in Phoenix since the blockbuster trade that made him a Laker in July. Remember that? Remember when the Lakers got Nash and Howard and we penciled them in for an automatic trip to the NBA Finals?
"I think we're headed in the right direction," Howard said.
There was no more room left in the other direction, so up was the only place to go.