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Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard are erasing Lakers' digital divide

BEN BOLCH / ON THE NBA

All-Star guard Kobe Bryant and center Dwight Howard are now pointing to each other, not at each other, while working together to save Lakers' season.

March 08, 2013|By Ben Bolch

This is the preferred kind of finger-pointing between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.

It's the first possession Friday night and Bryant finds his Lakers teammate near the basket for a reverse layup. Howard acknowledges Bryant on his way back up the court by extending his index finger in appreciation.

Soon there is another grateful gesture after Howard takes a bounce pass from Bryant and drives for a ferocious dunk.

It's no longer complicated for a couple of Lakers who had bickered for most of the season's first four months. They appear to like playing alongside one another, their fondness shown in subtle public displays of affection.

The strengthening bond between Howard and Bryant has helped the Lakers fortify a season that is no longer quite so wobbly, their 118-116 overtime victory against Toronto at Staples Center on Friday moving them over .500 for the first time since Nov. 20.

Howard even may have assisted Bryant on the game-winning shot, the center grabbing a handful of Rudy Gay's jersey as Bryant drove for the dunk that gave the Lakers a 117-115 lead.

"Sometimes you have to be nasty and sometimes you have to be creative," Howard said. "I just held my man, but there's plays where I do a good job of sealing for those guys."

The Lakers' latest comeback triumph was all about Bryant and Howard.

Bryant's 41 points included a pair of tightly contested three-pointers in the final 30 seconds of regulation to force overtime before he elevated in the extra period for his latest amazing dunk. Howard continued to be a menace at both ends of the court, collecting 24 points and 13 rebounds to go with five blocked shots.

"The way we're playing right now is absolutely the way we should be playing," Bryant said. "We really shouldn't be patting each other on the back about it. This is what we're supposed to be doing. We get paid the big bucks to do this, so we're just doing our job."

Their excellence made it easy to forget a momentary lapse in overtime when Howard committed a three-second violation, prompting Bryant to shake his head in frustration.

"We're just trying to play off each other," Howard said. "We know how well the two-man game is working with me and him. We do our best to play out of that and in the in fourth quarter it's Kobe time."

They are starting to become a tandem to behold on a nightly basis for all the right reasons. Bryant fed Howard for five of Howard's six baskets in the second half Wednesday in New Orleans as the Lakers rallied from a 25-point deficit. Perhaps the only reason Bryant didn't make it six for six was that Howard's other basket was a put-back dunk.

Bryant was the one racing toward the rim for a dunk late in the second quarter Friday after Howard screened burly Raptors center Aaron Gray, giving Bryant an open driving lane.

About a minute later, Bryant passed up a three-point attempt to pass to Howard underneath the basket for a turnaround dunk and more finger-pointing.

Earlier this season, the interactions between Howard and Bryant were notable mostly for the dysfunction they revealed.

There was the testy timeout exchange in New Orleans in December when Bryant irked Howard by failing to rotate defensively on a pair of early possessions that resulted in baskets by Robin Lopez.

There was the morning meeting in Memphis in January when Bryant acknowledged he could be a pain to play with, as if that was news. Howard said he wasn't bothered by Bryant but his play against the Grizzlies suggested otherwise, the center a nonfactor in 14 minutes before aggravating the torn labrum in his right shoulder.

Howard's shoulder would be a talking point again a couple weeks later when Bryant said his teammate needed to play as soon as he could, prompting Howard's infamous "He's not a doctor" retort.

Bryant did show surgical precision in the fourth quarter Friday when he made an alley-oop pass to Howard for a dunk. Soon Howard was making a pair of free throws after the Raptors adopted a short-lived Hack-a-Howard strategy.

The duo gave the Lakers plenty to point to in their latest stirring comeback.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

twitter.com/latbbolch

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