Together, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard amassed 62 points, 22 rebounds,… (Gerald Herbert / Associated…)
Since the All-Star break, the Lakers are 7-2. A resurgent Dwight Howard has been a major part of the Lakers' run.
Something clicked for Howard in Houston during All-Star weekend.
"I stayed in the hotel and just thought about the first half of the season and what I could do better. How I could be better for our team." said the Lakers center. "I just told myself, 'I'm going to commit myself to being better for the second half of the season.'"
When Howard first arrived to Los Angeles in August, he said he didn't think playing with Kobe Bryant would change him as a player or a person.
"Kobe's going to be Kobe and I'm going to be Dwight," he said at his introductory press conference. "I'm not going to try to change who he is and I'm not going to change who I am. I'm going to have fun and do what I do and that's what got me here today and I'm not going to change it."
Now 63 games into the season, Howard may be realizing how much of an influence Bryant has had.
"We talked and [Bryant] told me what he did when he had problems, and I see it for myself now," said Howard. "He was always saying, 'I get into the gym and shoot 5,000 shots.' To see it shows me how dedicated he is."
"I always tell him, 'I'm afraid to miss. So, when I get there, I don't want to miss, so I end up missing,'" Howard continued. "He was like, 'You know what, shoot 1,000 jump shots a day and you're going to miss a lot of those shots, but then you're teaching yourself that, hey, it's OK to miss.'"
"Now I see it," said Howard. "So [Bryant] gets out there and might miss a couple of threes, next thing you know he'll make nine threes in a row. You see it and it just kind of gives you more inspiration."
Perhaps Bryant's recent heroics, closing out two come-from-behind games against the New Orleans Hornets and Toronto Raptors have given Howard a new perspective on who Bryant is as a player.
Howard, too, was an integral part of those comebacks — offensively and defensively. He and Bryant have suddenly started to show a long-absent chemistry on the court together.
"When you look at a guy like Kobe, he doesn't care about nothing but going out there and playing hard," said Howard. "That's a lesson that a lot of us have to learn."
Howard has also taken on some of Bryant's habits off the court.
"I know Kobe has a lot of energy. I know that he changed his diet," said Howard. "I've done the same thing."
Howard said a number of his teammates have adopted healthier eating habits.
"All the sugar, that's bad for us because it causes us to get fatigued a lot faster. We don't need that," he said. "All of us are trying to recover. Some of the guys are old, so the less sugar we put in our bodies, the better we'll be."
Through the first few months of the season, Howard was inconsistent as he struggled to recover from back surgery he underwent last April. He also had to push through a torn labrum in his right shoulder and fatigue after being laid up for most of the summer.
His renewed mental focus coincides with a healthier body.
"I'm feeling a lot better. There's still days and times where I still have the tingling in my legs when I'm playing. That won't change for a while but I just play through it," said Howard. "My shoulder, dealing with that, sometimes I'm afraid to catch the ball and go up cause I don't want nobody to hit me and I'll hurt it, but I just try to play through all that stuff."
While the future remains uncertain with Howard in the final year of his contract, his time this season with the Lakers, and Kobe Bryant, has already impacted him significantly.
"I think this is a blessing for me, to experience the stuff that I've experienced this year. It's just going to make me a better man and a better player," said Howard. "Just from watching Kobe — this has been great for me. I wouldn't have it any other way."
The Lakers play next on Sunday against the Chicago Bulls.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.