Lakers' Dwight Howard Wants To Set A New Touch-Tone

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In comments reminiscent of Shaquille O'Neal's 12 years earlier, center Dwight Howard says the Lakers will thrive if the ball goes inside to him early in games.

In comments reminiscent of Shaquille O'Neal's 12 years earlier, center Dwight Howard says the Lakers will thrive if the ball goes inside to him early in games.

	Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard poses for photos during NBA media day for the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team in Los Angeles

Dwight Howard likes getting touches early in games. Obviously.

"For a lot of us bigs . . . give us some food, we're good. We don't eat, we're grumpy," he said Saturday with a smile.

It sounded eerily like something Shaquille O'Neal said in similarly stormy times a dozen years ago, but it might be the most important component of the Lakers' season.

When Howard is involved on offense, he thrives. When he isn't, he falters, sometimes bringing the team with him.

The Lakers are lucky. They have a primer on how to win. It happened Friday.

Howard had eight shots in the first eight minutes against Utah. He was happy. Kobe Bryant had 14 assists, one shy of his career high, and Howard had 17 points on eight-for-12 shooting in a 102-84 victory over Utah.

"It's great with me and Pau [Gasol] working together and the inside-out attack," Howard said. "The game is a lot easier that way when we're attacking the rim. Then Kobe can get his jump shots off when he needs and he's not working so much to get his shot off. It's just better for our team."

O'Neal had similar things to say in January 2001 as Bryant's stats increased, O'Neal's scoring average dropped four points and the Lakers' victory total was lower than expected a few months into a championship defense.

"I'm dominant offensively. I can do things defensively. When you feed the big dog, the dog will be happy," said the reigning MVP at the time. "I'm not Luc Longley. I'm not Dikembe Mutombo. I can't run 13 minutes in a game without touching the ball. I'm not used to that. I wasn't brought here to rebound and do that stuff. [Former Lakers executive] Jerry West brought me in here because he wanted me to play. I can put numbers on the board. I can do what I do.

"It's not about points. We're not an outside team. We're an inside-out team."

Very. Striking. Indeed.

But Bryant and Howard are not Bryant and O'Neal. Not even close.

Bryant has been irritated by Howard's clowning-around nature and let him have it in front of teammates, coaches and team personnel at the Lakers' clear-the-air meeting Wednesday in Memphis.

But they don't detest each other, terminology reserved strictly for Bryant and O'Neal.

And it wouldn't be the worst thing if Bryant kept sharing like he did Friday, when he finished one assist shy of his career record.

Gasol also looked rejuvenated against the Jazz, making seven of eight shots and standing up to a shove-fest with Utah power forward Paul Millsap.

It put Howard in a questioning mood when he was told by a reporter that two big men couldn't play together on the court.

"Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon," he said. "David Robinson, Tim Duncan. [Andrew] Bynum and Pau. What do they have in common? They all won championships!"

Well, Sampson didn't. But Howard's point was understood, even as it flew in the face of Coach Mike D'Antoni's push-the-pace system.