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Lakers must look inside going forward without Kobe Bryant

With their star out because of a torn Achilles' tendon, the Lakers need to slow the game down and look to their big men, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.

April 13, 2013|By Ben Bolch
  • With Kobe Bryant out the rest of the season, Lakers big men Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol will get what they've been asking for all season: more touches.
With Kobe Bryant out the rest of the season, Lakers big men Dwight Howard… (Gary Kazanjian / Associated…)

Dwight Howard offered the solution to this Lakers mess of a season even before Kobe Bryant's torn left Achilles' tendon turned it completely upside down.

Play inside out.

Slow the game down. Find Howard and Pau Gasol underneath the basket. Let the best big-man duo in the NBA finally unleash its collective might.

It isn't an option; it's the Lakers' only option after Bryant was lost for the season Friday against Golden State. Bryant could conceivably return by October, meaning Howard and Gasol might only have to carry the Lakers on their massive shoulders for whatever remains of this ruptured season.

Surely even stubborn Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni, the architect of an offense once known as seven seconds or less, must see that the only remaining route to the playoffs and beyond is 7-footers or less.

Those who say this is now Howard's team are only half right. Or maybe they haven't watched Gasol recently recapture the form that made him a menace who led Spain to the gold-medal game in last summer's Olympics.

In his last three games, Gasol has averaged 23.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 7.7 assists.

Over that same span, Howard has averaged 22.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists.

If they're not quite the twin towers then they're twin terrors, with Gasol every bit as effective as Howard has been.

"He's a main guy," Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Saturday of Howard. "Certainly a lot's going to fall on his shoulders. But when we get Steve Nash back, a lot's going to fall on his shoulders. And certainly [Friday] night, Pau was one of our best players too.

"So I'm not going to say that it's all on one person's shoulders, but everybody has to carry a little bit more right now and certainly Dwight's one of them."

If Howard wanted to find out what life would be like as a Laker without Bryant, well, now's his chance. He has two more regular-season games and the playoffs, assuming the Lakers maintain their one-game lead over Utah for the No. 8 seeding in the Western Conference, to decide whether he's going to sign a maximum five-year contract this summer and become the centerpiece of the franchise going forward.

Former Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal, who knows something about leaving Bryant behind, said Howard may not like everything that going it alone entails.

"For his stats, it will be all right," O'Neal said in a recent interview with The Times, "but you can't do it by yourself. You need that one-two punch or that one-two-three punch a la Miami and a la what Boston did. He'll get his points, but it isn't about points. It's about seeing how many rings you can get."

Howard and Gasol each lobbied for more touches even before Bryant went down. Gasol talked about increased ball movement after Bryant scored 47 points against Portland on Wednesday. Across the locker room, Howard made his pitch for playing inside out.

Turns out they're both right.

The benefits of a half-court offense featuring Howard and Gasol transcend easy points.

"When you slow the game down, teams can't run," Howard said Friday morning, only hours before Bryant was injured. "When they run, they put you in tough positions because guys have to come out and help in different spots and guys are scrambling.

"But when the defense is set, everybody knows where they need to be and you're able to just navigate through an offense, especially for guys like me. When I'm back and I see everything, it's good for our defense. I'm able to talk, I'm able to tell guys where to go."

Playing inside out doesn't relegate Nash, Metta World Peace and Earl Clark to nonentities; it actually makes them more effective. Howard and Gasol could find their teammates on the perimeter for open jumpers or sprinting toward the basket for layups.

"When we play inside out, it makes it tough for teams to guard us," Howard said. "They're so worried about making sure that we don't score in the post that we can kick it out to guys cutting for threes and when we play that way, it slows the game down, it saves our legs and when we play against those young teams that want to run, they hate that, when you slow the game down."

A young team hating to play the Lakers? That's something that hasn't happened this season.

Playing inside out could make it a reality.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

Times staff writer Mike Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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