When the Lakers practiced in El Segundo on Thursday, Steve Nash did not partake and Kobe Bryant was nowhere to be seen by the time the media was allowed in to interview coaches and players, but he did take part in practice.
As is customary, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni was first to speak to the media.
“We’re playing harder,” D’Antoni said, explaining the team's previous two wins. “A lot of guys have picked it up. I think the biggest thing is Dwight [Howard]’s getting healthier, and he’s been phenomenal inside.”
“We’re playing harder, but we should play this way,” Howard said, echoing D'Antoni's sentiments. “Everybody’s starting to feel a lot better. Conditioning is key, so that area is getting better.”
On a personal level, Howard admitted that conditioning was a major factor in his return to form at an important time in the season.
“I’m just in better shape, so I can have more than one attempt for rebounds -- just the little things that I’ve been good at for most of my career,” he said.
Howard cautiously continued, “It’s kind of coming back.”
Howard was asked about playoff-level intensity seeping into the final regular season games. He laughed and said, “I don’t think the ‘Hack-a-Howard’ is intense." (Watch Video of Howard at Practice)
Another facet of Howard and the Lakers playing better is Pau Gasol’s return to the team.
Gasol discussed the challenge of playing with Howard in a system that is designed to spread the floor. However, Gasol said that he has been more effective by finding his way into the post with more regularity.
“It was always a matter of compromise,” Gasol started out (Watch Video). “We’re both inside players, really. I can step outside and make plays from the outside, but I’ll always be most effective in the post.”
The Spaniard credited the team with making a conscious effort to get him back into areas where he is the most effective.
“It’s working,” Gasol concluded confidently.