Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard in altercation?

According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard “got into a heated exchange following a New Year’s Day loss to the 76ers.”

Bondy writes that after the loss to Philadelphia, Bryant called Howard soft and the Lakers center had to be restrained from “going at his teammate.”

What’s not clear if the altercation actually occurred.

Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM.com, a confidant of Howard, tweeted that the altercation didn’t happen.

Ramon Shelburne of ESPNLA.com also tweeted, “Two Lakers sources have adamantly shot down the reported Dwight/Kobe incident. One said, ‘it’s simply not true.'”

Unfortunately in this line of work, not every source tells the truth. Whether it’s Bondy or Rudolph/Shelburne who are mistaken, there’s little doubt the Lakers are having significant issues this season.

Winning builds community but losing tears it apart, and the Lakers have lost 18 of 33.

The future of Howard, in the final year of his contract, isn’t clear but Howard himself wouldn’t be able to say with certainty what he plans to do in July, when free agency begins.

The Lakers may pull out of their dive. They may not. The organization may make a major trade, a minor one or hold fast.

All the Lakers need to do is finish in the top eight in the Western Conference. If they’re playing their best basketball by April, a difficult regular season can be easily forgotten by a strong playoff run.

Of course, by the team’s recent play there’s no reason to suggest that they’ll be able to pull much of anything together.

Whether Bryant and Howard are at each other’s throats or bosom buddies isn’t clear, although the two don’t appear to be close.

The Lakers play on the road on back-to-back nights this week in Houston and San Antonio. They’ll return home for a Friday battle against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

A six-game losing streak is very possible, but if the Lakers win all three?  Suddenly any chemistry issues fade from memory.

-Eric Pincus