Breaking Down How Dwight Howard and Steve Nash Have Found Their Rhythm

If it's been hard finding the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference standings this season (ninth, 29-30), it's been even more difficult recognizing two of their biggest stars: Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.

Nash appeared set for the best season of his 16-plus year career. Yes, even better than his two MVP campaigns (2005 and 2006).

He had never played with a collection of talent quite like this. He would be sharing the backcourt with a future first-ballot Hall of Famer in Kobe Bryant.

He had another budding Hall of Famer in the frontcourt (two actually, if you ask former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, according to Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated), and a potentially devastating pick-and-roll partner in Howard, an explosive package of size (6'11", 265 lbs.) and athleticism.

Those expectations only grew when Nash found himself once again paired with coach Mike D'Antoni, the offensive guru who had called the shots during the point guard's MVP efforts.

Yet Nash wasn't tallying transcendent assist numbers, rather a pedestrian 7.1 per game—his lowest average of the 2000s. He was more of an observer than participant, utilizing little more than his three-point threat (career 42.8 percent) while Bryant initiated D'Antoni's sets.

Howard, meanwhile, appeared to be in line for a slight decrease in his scoring numbers after joining a franchise housing more mouths to feed than he'd seen in eight seasons with the Orlando Magic.

But whatever he lost in points, he figured to recoup in reputation with the Lakers' assumed waltz to the franchise's 17th NBA title.

But the happy-go-lucky Howard instead saw his character torn to shreds. The omnipresent smiles were gone, replaced by an emotionless look of bewilderment while questions about his toughness and leadership ability rained down on his massive shoulders.

The first-year teammates butted heads, ...

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