Yes, the duo has been scoring together all season—they're combining for over 46 points per night thus far—but it extends well beyond their point totals. So far beyond it, in fact, that Howard and Bryant are in the early goings of developing a chemistry that Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal never could.
Because they're beginning to trust each other like Kobe and Shaq never did.
Such faith in one another has only evolved over the course of the post-Mike Brown era, a span that has seen these two tantalize opposing defenses, even when one of them—more specifically Howard—is having an off night.
Take Howard's performances against the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. Neither Golden State nor San Antonio was allowing him enough room to operate, and the offense wasn't coming easy to Tinseltown's big man in either of those games.
Instead of forcing the action, however, Howard took just six shots in the win over the Warriors and merely nine in the loss to the Spurs, opting to defer to Kobe.
That says something. It says a great deal, actually.
Bryant was running the offense on both those occasions, and while he never stopped featuring Howard, the behemoth knew he was better off allowing Kobe to either shoot or find someone else who could. And that trust is the very foundation of not just a strong relationship, but something greater—tactical harmony.
The strength of Bryant and Howard's relationship reached its peak during the shooting guard's triple-double performance over the Houston Rockets. Howard was on the receiving end of several of Kobe's 11 assists, pitching in 28 points to go along with the Black Mamba's 22. That outing was everything the Lakers envisioned when they brought Howard into the fold.
No one expected this to be a seamless pairing. Howard wasn't used to the bright lights of Los Angeles, nor was he accustomed to playing second-fiddle. There was also plenty of concern as to how Bryant would respond to Howard's carefree attitude—especially after a loss.
But those have proven to be non-issues. Howard has embraced his role as the man to whom Kobe will eventually pass the torch and Kobe has been more than accepting of Iron Man's persona, simply by being tolerant.
Kobe, Howard and the Lakers are finally playing like the powerhouse they were thought to be. Mike D'Antoni's free-flowing offense has helped, no doubt, but so has the ever-evolving rapport between Bryant and Howard.
Which is what is truly horrifying if you're an outsider. This relationship is thriving, yet as Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com writes, it's also only just beginning:
"We're almost there," Howard said. "We're almost on the same page. I just tell Kobe, he's always going to attack but always just attack the basket and I'll try to clean up if you miss. We're just learning each other's game. It's going to take some time but we're doing the best we can."
Howard had the same amount of shots as Bryant (18) and it was the fourth time in the Lakers' 10 games this season that he outscored Bryant, who happened to be the league's leading scorer coming into Sunday. The Lakers' are 3-1 in those games.
How is the opposition supposed to compete with that? Few teams have the type of players who know they can outdo the other, but choose not to on any given night.
Never before has scoring been a non-issue the way it is for Bryant now. Sure, he's scoring—and doing so efficiently—but he's attempting the lowest number of shots he has in the last 13 years. Spending time within a counterproductive Princeton offense or not, that's impressive.
It's also telling.
Bryant wants this pairing to work; he wants he and Howard to become a formidable duo in the Association. He knows that he's 34 and that, as prolific as he is, he's going to need spread to the wealth if he wants that sixth championship ring.
Which two players are most important to the Lakers' success moving forward?
Howard is no longer as self-conscious either. Remember when he was hesitant to join the Lakers in fear of being lost in the Kobe-Pau Gasol shuffle? Such an impediment seems like it surfaced decades ago, what with Howard now assuming the "I'll try to clean up if you miss" approach.
Make no mistake, this was far from inevitable. Bryant and Howard weren't guaranteed to succeed next to one another, weren't guaranteed to co-exist. Yet they have, because both have been willing to do what's best for the other.
They've both been willing to make individual sacrifices so that the other may succeed.
"It makes the game very easy," Bryant had said in reference to playing alongside Howard.
Not challenging. Not interesting. Easy. Toss in Howard's willingness to "clean up" after Kobe on the offensive end and you have the makings of a beautifully balanced on-court entity.
One that ensures the Lakers' most recent string of success is just the beginning.
All stats in this article are accurate as of November 20th, 2012.