For the second consecutive game, the Los Angeles Lakers have secured a victory over a Central Division foe. The wins ended a six-game losing streak, created new momentum and established one player-related fact.
Over the past two games, the duo of Kobe and D12 have finally displayed their upside as a powerhouse tandem. Howard is averaging 26.5 points, 15 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, while Bryant is posting 27 points and six assists.
Most recently, both Bryant and Howard posted 31 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
D12 led the way. Bryant led D12.
Chris Palmer of ESPN provided us with the stat line of the night.
Line of the Night: Dwight Howard 31 pts, 16 rebs, 4 blks, 14-18 FG, W— chris palmer (@ESPNChrisPalmer) January 16, 2013
It would be difficult to argue with anyone who claims that this was D12's best night as a Laker.
The key to Howard's performance was Bryant's approach to the game. From the opening quarter on, Bryant looked inside and attempted to develop a low-high attack.
That attempt was met with positive results.
As for those who believe this is a fluke performance, you shouldn't. As I've said since day one, these are the type of numbers Howard should be posting on a nightly basis.
Per Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register, Steve Nash agrees.
"This should be average for him. This is nothing...for him considering how good he can be. It's a pleasure to play with someone who has that ability -- the sky's the limit -- and he can keep improving."
Nash is spot-on with his evaluation.
The question is: What will it take for Howard to continue producing at this world class level? Contrary to popular belief, it is not as much about skill as one may assume.
D12 simply needs Kobe to provide him with the opportunity to thrive.
Throughout the history of his illustrious career, Kobe Bryant has seen his best results when the Lakers work from the interior on out.
With Shaquille O'Neal, Bryant played a key role in establishing the Lakers' low-post game. Upon working it inside, lanes were created for Bryant to score with much more efficiency.
The result was three NBA championships as the Lakers controlled the pace of virtually every game.
When L.A. traded for Pau Gasol in 2008, the Lakers again created this low-high dominance. The Lakers would proceed to win 27 of their next 36 regular season games and go from contender to favorite.
They made the Finals that year and won two consecutive titles in the following seasons.
This is the type of success that the Lakers can discover with Dwight Howard. The key to discovering this level of achievement is for Bryant to step up and look to D12 first.
An approach that could lead Bryant to his sixth career NBA championship.
Developing the Aggression
For Dwight Howard to perform at the level expected of him, he needs to be aggressive. Unfortunately, that is the one trait that D12 has yet to display on a consistent basis.
Recent history suggests that the best way to create a rabid mentality is to force Howard to embrace it.
There is no better way to do such a thing than to have Kobe Bryant, the ultimate aggressor, facilitate his scoring. This will not only force Howard to finish along the interior, but to influence his work ethic in all facets of the game.
Most notably, as a scoring threat.
When D12 is working for shots, the opposing defense is forced to collapse. This opens up the perimeter for a team that is attempting 25.3 three-point field goals per game.
Most important of all, this creates lanes for Bryant to work his scoring magic and D12 to take over the offensive glass.
With Kobe scoring efficiently and Howard dominating the interior, opposing defenses will lack an area in which they can develop a focus. This creates the capacity for the Lakers to dominate offensively at a higher level than Mike D'Antoni could have ever planned.
Howard's defensive numbers suddenly create an MVP campaign.
Metta World Peace's new-found physical fitness has pushed him back into the realm of elite perimeter defenders. Even still, one thing has become perfectly clear about the Los Angeles Lakers.
Their defense is at it's finest when Kobe Bryant is dominating on-ball.
Recently, we have seen the Lakers task Kobe with defending the lead ball handler. With that responsibility thrust upon him, Bryant held Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving and Brandon Jennings to shoot a collective 40.7 percent from the floor.
As for what this means for D12, there are just three words to define the benefit: check the numbers.
During those three games, D12 averaged 24.7 points, 15 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. It's hard to debate the statement that Howard put forth his best three performances of the season in that time.
So what is it that Kobe's defense does for Howard? Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jim Boylan put it best.
Bucks interim coach Jim Boylan: "Kobe changed the complexion of the game with his pressure in the back court"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 16, 2013
With Bryant altering the opposition's approach to the game in such a significant way, this opens the door for D12 to go to work.
Regardless of who he is matched up against, Howard has a positional advantage. With a player such as Kobe setting the pace, there is no reason he cannot exploit that edge.
As long as D12 capitalizes on the opportunities he is granted, he will perform at an MVP-caliber level. More importantly, he will collaborate with Kobe to save the Lakers' season.
Something that has been long overdue.