LOS ANGELES -- Sunday marked the first time in Dwight Howard's career with the Los Angeles Lakers that he played in a game that Kobe Bryant did not, as Bryant missed his first game of the season to rest his sprained left ankle and heal up from the flu.
The occasion begged the question: Has he thought about what life in L.A. could be like post-Bryant with him as the clear go-to guy and face of the franchise?
"In Orlando, I was the guy that everything went through," Howard said following shootaround as the Lakers prepped for their game against the Sacramento Kings. "I know that position. That’s why we all play. We play and I play because I want to put the team on my back and carry those guys to the Finals. That’s always been my goal, and I love having that on my back. Being able to just lead these guys -- that’s what I want to accomplish, and I just want these guys to have total trust in me. The franchise has trust in me, and it’s the same thing with the coaches and the players. When I show those guys I can go down there and score, make the right play, then they’re going to trust me. So, that’s how I see it, and it’s going to happen. We just got to be patient."
Howard made strides toward earning that trust against Indiana on Friday, shaking off early foul trouble to lead L.A. to an impressive victory as he had 20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and four rebounds in a game that Bryant asked out of after the first quarter.
Much has been made about how the Lakers have divvied up ownership of the team this season between two extremely different personalities in Bryant and Howard, but Howard insists he has willingly sat shotgun while Bryant mans the wheel.
"I didn’t come here and say, ‘This is my team,’ and all of that stuff," Howard said. "That wasn’t anything that was on my mind. Like I told you guys in the beginning, this is a great time for me to learn from a guy like Kobe, a guy like Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, and that’s what I intended on doing. I’ve learned so much from the beginning of the season until now that it’s going to help me moving forward in my career. So, this has been great. Everything that Kobe is doing, everything that Pau and Steve and those guys are doing will help me in the long run as far as taking a team over the hump."
What has been the most important thing he has learned?
"For years in Orlando, my job was to do that, and there was a couple areas that I needed to work on," Howard said. "By being here, you just really see how to do it. It’s how you approach games. About how you approach practice. The time after practice, the work that you put in on the days off, that’s what the guys on the team see, and they feed off that. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned, just coming in and getting my work done so everybody else can see, ‘This is how you work and he’s working, so you set the bar high, and we just follow that bar.’ It’s good for me."