- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- Earlier this month, Phil Jackson said the Lakers would need to have a "come to Jesus" moment if they were to make the playoffs. If you ask Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, they'd say that moment came last week when the Lakers held a team meeting in Memphis.
Bryant acknowledged during the meeting that he could be hard to play with and asked Howard if he disliked playing alongside him, according to The Los Angeles Times.
"It really helped," Howard, when asked for details of the meeting, said after the Lakers' practice Monday. "It helped [us] and it helped everybody on the team. It was great. People have said it, it was a 'come to Jesus' meeting. It was good. Stuff like that takes time. We all got to a point that whatever needed to be said was said but none of the stuff was taken personal. We all want to add another banner up there and all have rings, and in order for us to do that we all have to do it together."
The meeting took place the morning of the Lakers' 106-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Since that game last Wednesday, the Lakers have won back-to-back games against the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers' 105-96 win over Oklahoma City on Sunday was easily the biggest win of what has been an otherwise disappointing 19-25 season.
Howard believes the meeting and confronting Bryant about their roles has helped the Lakers put together their modest winning streak.
"I'm happy that me and Kobe are getting on the same page," Howard said. "In order for us to win, me and him have to always be together on the same page. We have to really lead this team. I think that's the key right there.
"It's a process. It's always been a process. It wasn't an easy one because we're both two big dogs and we bump heads. Instead of us bumping heads, we can both do things to lead this team. Offensively, he's going to lead our team, and on the defensive end it's my job. So we all have different roles, but we all have one common goal and we have to be together for us to succeed."
Bryant said he thought that the conflict and later the confrontation that was created by having two "big dogs" on the same team was actually a good thing.
"You have to create conflict and confrontation," Bryant told "Max & Marcellus" on ESPNLA 710. "A lot of times when you have people that are in those positions, everybody is kind of tiptoeing around each other, everybody is afraid to rub each other the wrong way and you wind up not advancing, you wind up being counterproductive, so you really have to challenge each other."
This isn't the first time Bryant has had to deal with such conflict while trying to coexist with a larger-than-life center who began his career with the Orlando Magic before coming to L.A. Bryant said he has used many of the lessons he learned from playing alongside Shaquille O'Neal in now sharing the same side of the court with Howard. While the O'Neal-Bryant partnership had a messy ending, it did result in four trips to the NBA Finals and three championships.
"I think Shaq had things he wanted to accomplish in terms of his legacy and his perception of the game, and my emergence, he saw that as a threat a little bit and he wanted to keep me at arm's distance," Bryant said. "But that conflict that we had actually taught me a valuable lesson in terms of the edginess and competitiveness that it brought to the team and the energy that it created. So once we had that conflict, he and I came on the same page and you saw that energy just absolutely change the team, and now we generated so much momentum from he and I being on the same page that it carried us throughout the playoffs."
Howard wouldn't go into the specifics about the meeting and what he and Bryant said to each other, but he did say he thought it was good that both players aired their concerns.
"I think that's something's that's needed," Howard said. "A lot of times when you have a lot of guys come together, nobody wants to step on anybody's toes or do anything against somebody else, but we have to win. And in order for us to win we have to pull the best out of each other every night. That takes time for us to do. In order for us to do things as a unit we have to do things out of the ordinary. If we have to pull the best out of each other every day by going off on somebody, that's what we have to do. At the end of the day, it's not personal. We're only doing it because we care about each other and care about what we're trying to accomplish."
Bryant pinpointed "our closed-door meeting that everybody knows about" as the moment he and Howard worked to get on the same page and defined their roles. Bryant was slightly more open to revealing what he told Howard during their meeting and in subsequent chats.
"What I tell him is you got to drive guys and you got to push them," Bryant said. "That's why I'm pleased to hear what he said about he and I butting heads because that's how it should be. That's how he should be with everybody. He likes smiling and he likes joking and having a good time, but what I tell him is, 'Listen, it's not about what makes you comfortable. It's about how do you get everybody else on the team to play at that high level and play with that edge and play with that drive.'
"Naturally, he may be a fun, outgoing guy, but for you to walk around every now and then with a scowl on your face or to get in someone's face, it puts everyone on notice and it puts everyone on edge."
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5dMatt Walks, ESPN.com