Dwight Howard expects Steve Nash to orchestrate a more cohesive offense,… (Alex Brandon / Associated…)
The Lakers have struggled without Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, but both are nearly ready to return. Gasol will play Tuesday night after an eight-game layoff (knees), and Nash is hoping to play soon after.
Despite the team's 11-14 start, Dwight Howard still has a lot of confidence in what the Lakers are doing.
"We're still learning. Our defense has picked up," Howard said. "We've done a better job of helping each other on defense and talking. On the offensive end, we've been doing a better job of pushing the pace."
The Lakers won two straight games after dropping four in a row. The schedule helped, playing the downtrodden Washington Wizards and the Philadelphia 76ers (without Jrue Holiday and Andrew Bynum), but the team will take wins however they can get them.
Nash went down in the second game of the season. The Lakers haven't really had the chance to play their full contingent.
"The more we play together, the more we grow as a team," Howard said. "We'll get more confidence in our offense and confidence in each other, to where we won't have to call any plays. That's what we're trying to build to right now; we just go out there and the offense just flows."
The Lakers score an impressive 102.1 points a night, but defensively they have broken down, drifting from top-five in field-goal defense to 17th. They've since inched back to 14th overall with opponents shooting 44.8% from the field.
"My biggest concern is on the defensive end," Howard said. "We have to get better as a team on defense."
While Nash is not known to be a defender, Howard believes his return will help the Lakers on that side of the floor.
"Most of the time our half-court defense has been pretty good. That teams that kill us [do it] with fast-break points, which on the stats sheet show up as points in the paint, and it makes it seem like we're not playing defense."
The Lakers turn the ball over 16.2 times a night, second-worst in the league. Howard expects Nash to orchestrate a more cohesive offense, resulting in fewer turnovers, which would drastically reduce fast-break opportunities for their opponents.
"If we can control the ball on the offensive end, play the way we want to play on offense and get a good shot every time, then we get back and set our defense, which for the most part is pretty good," he said. "When we turn the ball over, it puts us in a bad position to get back because we're running a play and then losing the ball, our momentum is going this way and they're going back the other way. We just really have to focus on getting a good shot every time, using the clock shot to our advantage."
Howard likes the team's pace, which has increased since the arrival of Coach Mike D'Antoni, but he wants the Lakers to also be able to win a Mike Brown-type game as well.
"We're playing against these young teams who want to go up and down the whole game. With the guys we have — we've got some old guys — I'm not sure they just want to run the whole game. I'm not sure that's to our advantage," Howard said. "We have to play with a pace on the offensive end but at the same time realize that if we need to grind and pound, we can do that also."
Howard referred to a famous quote, dating back a few hundred years, although Howard attributed it to a more modern source.
"Some of our players, we watch 'Batman' a lot," Howard said. "There's a part in the movie 'Batman' where he says, 'The night is the darkest right before dawn.'
"It basically means right now this is probably the darkest moment for our team. It's not going to last forever. The sun is going to come up and we're going to be where we need to be. We can't kill ourselves or shoot ourselves in the foot if we're not playing our best brand of basketball right now," he continued. "We would love to be 20-0 . . . sometimes being 20-0 could put you in a position where you feel like you're already there. We know we have to work out of this and we will. We'll continue to get better at it and we won't lose faith."
The Lakers came into the season believing they'd be competing for a championship. Their slow start hasn't taken them out of the race, but the road certainly got longer as home-court advantage throughout is unlikely.
Howard remembered that it took some time for the Lakers to win a title once they landed Shaquille O'Neal.
"You look at some of the Lakers teams in the past; when they first got together they weren't just amazing. I remember when Shaq first got here, the first three years they didn't really do anything. It took them awhile to get to know each other and play," he said. "Hopefully it doesn't take us three years, and I don't think it will, but it's going to take some time. We'll get it. We'll get it fast because we want it."
If there's any question of effort, Howard disagrees.
"Everybody on this team, we work extremely hard. On the off days or in the gym, we're here after practice we're working on stuff that's going to make us better. We're committed," Howard said. "All this stuff is going to show up sooner or later. It might not show when everybody else expects it to show up but when it's the right time, everything that we put in will start coming out."
The Lakers will host the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday night. Steve Nash may return Saturday in Golden State against the Warriors or Tuesday on Christmas at home against the New York Knicks, barring a setback.
Gasol to return tonight after eight-game layoff
Lakers' video wishes their fans a happy holidays
Pau Gasol's return will help, but to what extent?
Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.