Can Lakers Fans Believe in the New Dwight Howard?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IMarch 10, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 28:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers heads to the bench during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center on February 28, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard has looked more focused and energetic in games played since the All-Star break, and in a candid interview with ESPN's Ramona Shelburne after Saturday afternoon's practice, Howard revealed his inspiration.

Howard said that he cut sugar entirely out of his diet to prepare himself physically, and in an act of submission that should improve his mental state, Howard finally admitted there may be some truth to the things teammate Kobe Bryant has been trying to tell him.

"It's going to make me a better man and a better player from watching Kobe," Howard said.

Playing in Los Angeles, for a franchise with expectations as high as the Lakers, is "a lot different," Howard said.

"Besides just the expectations," he said. "In games, I mess up and there's somebody in the crowd saying something and I'm ready to snap at 'em. That's not what we're supposed to do.

"But you look at a guy like Kobe and he doesn't care about nothing but going out there and playing hard. That's a lesson a lot of us have to learn—especially young guys."

In the Lakers' last two games, Howard's epiphany has been certified by his play on the court, as his 22 points and 14 rebounds per game in that span has helped the Lakers reach the brink of qualifying for the postseason.

In that same period of time, Bryant has averaged 41 points and 12 assists of his own, and Howard and Bryant have never looked more in sync at any point this season.

Howard's commitment to defense and his decision to embrace the pick-and-roll has led to glimpses of the same dominant player who roamed the paint in Orlando, and his very public admission concerning Kobe's impact can only serve to strengthen their relationship.

According to Howard, that relationship with Kobe has always been good, but their experience this season has deepened their bond.

Howard's interview displays a level of self reflection we have yet to see during his various announcements through the media, but rip the emotions away, and all you really get is Howard changing directions once again.

I want to believe in the sincerity of Howard's words, and his 15.4 points, 14 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game since the All-Star break is impressive, but can his attitude and level of play remain consistent?

Health has certainly factored heavily in Howard's uneven performances this season, and as his back and shoulder injuries have improved, his confidence and energy have increased.

However, Howard's nod to Bryant exhibits a level of maturity that's been lacking, and it also gives hope to the notion that Howard might finally be getting it.

Things may have been much easier for the Lakers if Howard had heeded Kobe's guidance earlier in the season, but a lesson learned later is still better than one never learned at all.

And if Howard does continue to back up his words with his play, then the Lakers' quest in the stretch run of the regular season could take on a whole new meaning.

Bryant and Howard are still the top two players at their respective positions in the West, and a shared focus and common cause could make the Lakers very dangerous if they manage to qualify for the postseason.

The talent and ability has always been there for Howard and the Lakers, but if the passion and maturity that Howard have added is real and sincere, the last half of the season should be an interesting ride for Lakers fans.