- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Dwight Howard knows a great team when he sees one. Players cheer for each other on big plays, pick each other up after bad ones and play with a chemistry you can't force. He saw a team such as that Friday night in the Lakers' 107-102 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
"Those guys on the Clippers team, they really enjoy each other off the court and it shows," Howard said Saturday after Lakers practice.
And how about the Lakers? Do they have that chemistry?
"It's something we have to do to get better," he said. "We have to play like we like each other. 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. It takes time to develop that. You just don't come together and then expect to be best friends right away. It just doesn't happen like that."
The topic came up because of Howard's complimentary comments about the Clippers after Friday's game, and a strange play in which Lakers forward Jordan Hill injured his ankle, rolled around in pain on the ground, but none of his teammates came over to check on him.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said he addressed the play involving Hill with the team at Saturday's practice, but didn't think the Lakers lacked chemistry.
"I think it was a lapse. I don't think it was meant," D'Antoni said of the team's lack of a reaction to Hill's injury. "It's something we addressed and talked about.
"I don't know if anybody has the formula for making the chemistry right. But I know if everyone takes personal responsibility and plays hard, it will work itself out. It's amazing how you quit talking and pointing and rationalizing and playing as hard as you can play. We'll be fine.
"We need to play hard. We need to take accountability, each one of us. 'What's in it for me?' We need to get that out of our vocabulary and wonder what's best for the Lakers."
D'Antoni said if the Lakers' chemistry was lacking, it's simply from lack of time together. For instance, he said the relationship between Howard and point guard Steve Nash on pick and rolls is "not there yet."
"I don't know if it's because of a lack of training camp, or a lack of Steve being with us from the beginning, but the relationship between Steve and Dwight's got to get a lot better," D'Antoni said. "It's not creating the easy shots that we need."
The Lakers' coach also questioned the basic premise that players need to be close off the court to play well together on it.
"I don't know. I played on a lot of teams and I never really hung out with guys all the time," D'Antoni said. "I don't think you have to love each other. But you have to respect each other with what they do on the court."
Whenever a superstar Lakers center starts talking about chemistry, or a lack thereof, the conversation usually turns back to the tumultuous but ultimately wildly successful eight-year run of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant that resulted in three NBA titles.
When asked to compare the still-developing dynamic between himself and Howard to the run he had with O'Neal, Bryant laughed.
"That was a different dynamic. Shaq and I were a different dynamic," Bryant said. "That type of duo, you're not going to find another duo like that ever. There were other duos that were better than us, (Scottie) Pippen and (Michael) Jordan. But you'll never find a duo with two dominant personalities like myself and Shaquille. That was kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
Looking back on those years, Bryant said he's amazed the peace held as long as it did.
"That just wasn't going to last," he said, laughing. "You have too many alpha males. What do you think would happen if you put Jordan with Wilt? It's just not going to happen."
So can two alpha males ever coexist long enough to win titles?
"We did. We won three straight," Bryant said, referencing the Lakers' three-peat from 2000-02. "One of them has to sacrifice. I sacrificed quite a bit with individual numbers and MVPs and NBA Finals and all this other stuff.
"Phil (Jackson) used to come to us as a team and let me take over in the march to the Finals. Then in the Finals against Eastern Conference teams that didn't have any centers, we went through Shaq. Those are things I was willing to sacrifice. You have to have that sacrifice to make that dynamic work."
Asked again how that compares to the dynamic with Howard, Bryant said: "It's not the same thing. On that team, it was me and Shaq and role players, who were excellent role players. Here, it's me, Dwight, Steve and Pau (Gasol). We play to each other's strengths. Steve is the best facilitating guard. Pau is the best facilitating big man. The ball goes through those guys, and it allows them to make everybody better. It's really that simple."
When told of Bryant's quotes, characterizing himself as sacrificing during the O'Neal era, Howard asked for clarification.
"He took a back seat?" Howard asked. "I was super young, so I really don't remember too much from those championship runs."
Howard was then asked if he thought he had the same kind of alpha male personality as O'Neal.
"You can't look at it as the alpha male. It's basketball. We're not a pack of wolves," Howard said.
"There's different ways to lead a team. Sometimes you have to follow to learn how to lead. I've done an excellent job with guys of being somebody they can all come to if they have a problem.
"But if they're not working the way they need to work, I'm the guy that will tell 'em, 'Hey, you need to get in the weight room or get some extra shots up.' That's where I come in. I don't have to bark about it to you guys (reporters) or to the team."
Howard then explained what his definition of an "alpha male" is.
"If you're an alpha male, you don't have to always show that you're the alpha male," he said. "Just be who you are. You come in the room, people know you're there.
"My presence is felt every day, and I don't have to come here and growl and snarl at people. I don't have to do all that."
Instead, he said he tries to create a happy, enjoyable work environment.
"(My teammates) like when I come in, have fun and enjoy myself. Because they want to have fun and enjoy themselves, too," Howard said. "If they can't do it, it's not a great working environment.
"I don't think you guys would want to come into work with a boss that's always telling you what to do. If you see the boss being at ease and having fun doing it, then you're going to have fun doing that. That's who I am. I've been an alpha male my whole life, but I don't go pissing everywhere to show people that I'm an alpha male. I just need to be who I am."
3dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann