MEMPHIS -- The Lakers needed to talk. So they did. Loudly.
They held a clear-the-air team meeting before Wednesday morning’s shoot-around, with Kobe Bryant very directly asking Dwight Howard if he disliked playing with the long-time Lakers star.
“Guys went at each other a little bit,” said a person who witnessed the meeting.
Coach Mike D’Antoni started it by saying he was tired of reading newspaper stories about players questioning his offense or wanting more touches. Bryant and Howard each fell under that category after the Lakers’ lifeless 95-83 loss Monday in Chicago: Bryant said the offense needed to slow down while Howard expressed displeasure after taking only five shots.
D’Antoni then told the team to stop worrying about offense and start playing better defense. The Lakers are fifth in scoring (102.6 points a game) but 26th in defense (101.4 points a game).
He then asked players to speak up. Steve Nash went first.
Nash, in his first season with the Lakers, said he didn’t care how they played, whether it was via pick-and-roll or fastbreak or whatever. He just wanted everybody to be comfortable in the system. It was seen as a sacrifice by Nash, who played four seasons under D’Antoni’s run-and-gun offense in Phoenix and won two NBA MVP awards while doing it.
Bryant also spoke up, acknowledging he could be “hard to play with” and asking Howard if that bothered him.
Howard’s answer was unclear, though he did not engage Bryant in nearly as vocal a manner as Bryant engaged him.
“He didn’t go back at Kobe,” said the person who witnessed the meeting.
It was not known how long the actual meeting lasted, but the Lakers’ shoot-around went an hour longer than expected.
Howard was contrite with reporters afterward, saying he was sorry for demanding more touches two days earlier. The meeting seemed to have affected him.
“It starts with me,” he said Wednesday. “I have to be more of a player out there on the court and not worry about anything, not complain. Just do what I do best.”
After scoring only eight points on five shots against Chicago, Howard kept telling reporters to “look at the stat sheet” after the game.
“That was immature,” he said Wednesday. “I shouldn’t have done it.
“I’ve just got to go out there and dominate defensively and make it tough for teams. I just have to get back to doing that and not worry about the offense.”
D’Antoni, for his part, told reporters that the team would “maybe slow it down” on offense. He reiterated his defense-first assessment.
“The focus needs to be on the right thing. Our defense has to get better,” D’Antoni said.
The Lakers (17-24) are lodged in 12th place in the Western Conference. They play Memphis on Wednesday night.
Howard tried to hit reset on the Lakers’ season, which hit its midpoint Monday.
“I think this will be the start of a new season for us tonight. Hopefully our effort and energy is where it needs to be,” he said.
D’Antoni used similar words in saying the team was “restarting” its season last week. The Lakers beat Cleveland and Milwaukee but lost three in a row after that.
When asked by a reporter 90 minutes before Wednesday’s game against Memphis, D’Antoni talked about the Lakers’ morning meeting.
“You never want those kind of meetings because that means we’re in trouble a little bit. That doesn’t happen when you’re 40-1,” he said. “It needed to be said, it needed to happen, and now it’s up to us to make positive stuff out of it.
D’Antoni then offered a unique comparison about the Lakers’ woes.
“Have you ever watched an All-Star Game? It’s god-awful,” he said. “Everybody gets the ball and goes one-one-on and then they play no defense. That’s our team. That’s us. We’re an All-Star team.
“And we haven’t learned that there’s a pecking order. There’s the one guy, the two guy, the three guy and the four guy. It might not be the same guy every night but somebody’s got to accept being the fourth guy. And if you’ve been the first guy all your life, that’s hard to accept. And that’s happened in All-Stars and that’s what happened with us. And we haven’t overcome it.”
D’Antoni was obviously talking about Howard.