On Nov. 30, the Nuggets wrote some scouting notes on the white board in the visitor's locker room before playing the Los Angeles Lakers. Three notes stood out:
1. Foul Dwight Howard; no dunks
2. Pressure Pau Gasol
3. Kobe Bryant ball watches
This is not a complicated scouting report, and it is hard to argue with any of the three points.
The first note is the most over-exposed story in Los Angeles at the moment. Dwight Howard is not a good free throw shooter. This is not breaking news for anyone.
The second note makes sense. If Pau Gasol is given space and time, he is a good enough passer to find an open cutter. Gasol also has a reputation for being soft, so pressuring him more often leads to turnovers than foul calls. Regardless of whether he is actually fouled or not, Gasol just doesn’t get the whistle with as much regularity as other players who are as experienced and accomplished as the Spaniard.
The final note was the most interesting. When analyzing the Lakers’ defensive troubles, it’s hard to ignore that Kobe Bryant gambles on defense, often lets players by him too easily, and doesn’t rotate when he is supposed to. Kobe ball watches.
Against New Orleans, Dwight Howard finally stepped forward to let the world know that Kobe was not above playing defense. Howard yelled at Kobe during the game.
On the night when Kobe became the youngest player to reach 30,000 points, Dwight publicly called out No.24 on his missed defensive assignments and failure to rotate.
Lakers beat reporter, Kevin Ding, sent out the following flurry of tweets describing the scene:
“Dwight in disbelief at Kobe's lack of defensive rotation on Robin Lopez dunk. NO 12, LA 7.”
“Dwight and Kobe yelling at each other after Lopez gets another open basket.”
“Dwight yelled at Kobe for not rotating to Lopez. Kobe yelled back at Dwight, pointing toward the other end of the court.”
“Now in the timeout huddle, Dwight is standing up and pointing a finger in the face of the seated Kobe.”
Kobe Bryant may be the greatest scorer over the last two decades, but Dwight Howard just let him know that playing only one end of the floor is unacceptable. The Lakers defense now officially belongs to Howard, and no one—not even the great Kobe Bryant—gets a free pass.
Bryant reacted by playing better defense and exerting more effort, and the Lakers won big in New Orleans.
Howard’s confidence in directly challenging Bryant on such a historic night may, ultimately, lead to a historic Lakers season.