Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard

When the Houston Rockets return to action after the All-Star break, it’ll be in a game that should have been a lot more interesting going into: On the road against the Los Angeles Lakers, which would have been a chance to see Dwight Howard play against his former team and especially Kobe Bryant for the first time.

But plans aside, reality is different. Kobe Bryant is injured and might not play again this season. The Houston Rockets are doing fine, winning 7 in a row to take the third spot in the Western conference. The Lakers? Things can be summed up like this: They’re willing to trade everyone except for Kobe Bryant, although that might be the worst contract they have. But enough with the Kobe-bashing.

The NBA put the two teams together quite early in the season, shocking the Rockets 99-98 in early November.  They knew Bryant wouldn’t be back by then, so they had the two early games between the teams be in Houston. The 2014 games? In Los Angeles. But Bryant is a no-show (the fourth game is on April 8), and the Lakers are much closer to the bottom of the Western conference and who knows, maybe the league in just over a month than to being any sort of threat to Houston.

But this should still feel somewhat special to Howard, who got the wrong end of the stick when it comes to media treatment in Los Angeles. Bryant is L.A’s darling, like it or not, and being portrayed as the exact opposite in pretty much every aspect, no matter how far things deteriorated between them in the dressing room, meant he didn’t really have a chance of making it work there.

He played injured, but came off as someone who is lazy. He was a big reason in why the Lakers actually made the playoffs, but his face was the poster of them being swept by the Spurs in the first round, while Bryant was out nursing his own injury. Howard was later accused of asking the Lakers to trade/amnesty Bryant; of asking them to fire Mike D’Antoni. Their sales pitch to him in an attempt of keeping him from signing with the Rockets, a team with an actual future, was yell in his face that Bryant is going to teach him how to be a champion.

It’s hard to say just how fired up the remaining Lakers will be. With so many injuries on this team, you never know what Mike D’Antoni has to work with. And it’s not like he’s the greatest motivator in the world. A brilliant offensive mind? Maybe, mostly depends on how good his point guard is. The fans will be into it, especially early on, but if the Rockets play their good game, which means not the Harden selfish style but the other kind they’ve been doing recently, those fans will be put off by what’s happening very quickly.

Maybe Bryant will be healthy enough to play in seven weeks, and we’ll get the Howard vs Bryant moment we wanted. The two sat next to each other on the West’s bench for a short while; things didn’t seem too chummy. But the moment of making this a serious matchup has passed a few months ago, when it became clear the Los Angeles Lakers are one of the jokes of the NBA, while the Rockets were clearly the right choice for Howard.

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