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In the meantime, Dwight Howard is admittedly behind the curve when it comes to fitness. It's understandable, of course, since his summer was spent either immobile or rehabbing after back surgery. That he returned to action far quicker than expected doesn't change the fact he's still working to get his wind, a mission made no easier playing at D'Antoni's tempo. Last week featured two sets of back-to-back games, and the center made no bones about the effect, along with no excuses for two lackluster performances.
"I was tired," nodded Howard. "I was so tired. But I know the two games before [Dallas]; I know my energy wasn't there. But for this team to be successful it doesn't matter how many points I score or how many rebounds I get, as along as my energy is there on the defensive end and I'm active. On the offensive end, if I'm running and all that stuff, it just picks everybody up. So my energy level has to stay high for our team. I was upset at myself the two games before Dallas. Not because I didn't score, but because my energy level was very low and we can't be successful that way."
From my vantage point, the fitness issues seem more apparent on defense, where Howard's reactions have often been a step slow, and he hasn't been covered ground in the blink of an eye, as we've come to expect. Turns out, however, it's actually the opposite.
"The offense," responded Howard when I asked the most problematic side of the ball. "Battling in the post to get position, by the time I get the ball, I'm tired, so I take a lazy shot. So I just gotta work on that.
"All that stuff will come. It's still early in the season. I gotta find other ways to score until everything is 100 percent. I have to do the best I can on the defensive end. Bringing a lot of energy. Being active. Blocking shots. Changing shots. Getting steals. Doing all the things I can do to help this team win."
That "whatever it takes" sentiment echoes what's needed from Gasol as he discovers a comfort zone under D'Antoni. It's the second consecutive season in which El Spaniard's role hasn't been immediately evident, which only serves as a reminder of how he instantly fit like a glove in The Triangle. Of course, that acclimation period is aided considerably by everyone else knowing the offense inside-out, as was the case in 2008. Plus, Andrew Bynum's absence, along with Lamar Odom's versatility, meant Pau got to play big minutes down low, his preferred station.
But that was then, this is now, and Gasol is often planted at the elbows or even a little farther out. He has made it known this isn't his first choice, but also acknowledges the onus is on himself to make it work.
"We have different personnel," the Four-time All-Star noted. "Different needs. Different look. Different system. So a different positioning. You have to adjust. As a professional, you adjust to a different position in your company and you try to do your best, so the company still finds you a valuable asset, right? And the company still performs as well as it did before."