Nuggets-Lakers Preview

Dwight Howard thinks winning stems from strong friendships, even

if it’s disingenuous.

That could be why even Kobe Bryant’s staggering production

hasn’t been enough for the Los Angeles Lakers lately.

With Howard’s status uncertain due to injury, the Lakers may

need to find additional support for Bryant as they host the Denver

Nuggets on Sunday night.

Los Angeles (15-17) seemed to be reloading for a run at a third

NBA title in five seasons after it acquired Howard from Orlando in

a blockbuster four-team, 12-player trade in August.

The move has yet to pay off as expected, even with Howard

averaging 17.4 points and 12.0 rebounds while Bryant leads the NBA

at 30.5 points per game.

A weak defense continues to be the biggest issue for the Lakers,

who rank among the league’s worst teams allowing 100.5 points per

contest.

Howard, who has a sprained rotator cuff in his right shoulder,

feels a lack of cohesion is the problem.

“We have to play like we like each other,” he said. “Even if we

don’t want to be friends off the court, whatever that may be, when

we step in between the lines or we step in the locker room or the

gym, we have to respect each other and what we bring to the

table.

“It really starts off the court. I think you have to have that

relationship and that chemistry off the court for it to really

blossom on the court.”

Howard’s solution is time.

“It takes time to develop that,” he said. “You just don’t come

together and then expect to be best friends right away. It just

doesn’t happen like that.”

Los Angeles has lost three of four after a season-high five-game

win streak, giving up an average of 105.8 points. That stretch

started with a 126-114 loss at Denver on Dec. 26, when the Lakers

wasted a 40-point effort from Bryant.

Bryant has done more than his share during that four-game

stretch, averaging 35.3 points after scoring 38 in Friday’s 107-102

loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

“He’s lasered in on the game and trying to get us out of this

ditch,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We’ve just got to keep working

and keep our heads up and try to do it.”

Giving Bryant some offensive support could begin changing the

team’s fortunes. While losing the past two games, the Lakers’

superstar has totaled 74 points while the rest of the starters have

combined for 70.

They showed some scoring balance in a 122-103 home win over the

Nuggets on Nov. 30, when Antawn Jamison had a season-high 33 points

and 12 rebounds and Howard compiled 28 and 20, respectively.

Denver (19-16) has won four of six, holding opponents to 87.2

points on 39.4 percent shooting over the past five contests.

The Nuggets were terrific in nearly every facet Saturday,

shooting 51.3 percent from the field while limiting Utah to 35.9

percent in a 110-91 victory that came two days after a 101-97

defeat to Minnesota.

“It was a bounce-back game played the right way, with passion

and intensity,” coach George Karl said. “I thought we got

everything we wanted to do. We were executing our offense very well

and they didn’t get anybody hot. Defensively, we were sound the

whole game.”

Danilo Gallinari is looking to build on his 26-point performance

against the Jazz after averaging 12.0 over the previous three

games. The forward has scored 19 points in each of the two season

meetings with the Lakers.