LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant sat out with his ankle sprain, opening the door for Dwight Howard to lead the Lakers for the first time.
And Howard knew to lead his way instead of trying to lead Bryant's way.
Howard stuck to defense and rebounding principles that have keyed the Lakers' late-season surge and didn't try to overdo his individual offense to fill Bryant's void. The result was a nice team victory Sunday night over the Sacramento Kings, 113-102.
The 36-32 Lakers are four games better than .500 for the first time this season.
"For me," Howard said afterward, "it starts on defense."
Bryant didn't even appear on the bench during the game to do any coaching, but reserves Antawn Jamison (27 points, nine rebounds) and Steve Blake (16 points, eight assists, five rebounds) converted the additional opportunities they got without Bryant and with good Lakers ball movement.
Howard had 12 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks, clearly taking pride in the Lakers' team defense that faltered periodically but held up well enough because of how active and vocal Howard was. It was Howard's 14th consecutive game with at least 12 rebounds -- tying his career high for such a streak and bettering anything anyone in the league has done this season.
Howard credited improved conditioning with his rebounding run. Kings coach Keith Smart also praised Howard for drawing Sacramento double teams and passing on offense, saying: "Dwight didn't force the issue."
Said Howard: "I trust those guys to hit shots."
It might've been a peek into the Lakers' future with Howard and Steve Nash but without Bryant and Pau Gasol -- and against the lowly Kings who were lacking leading scorer DeMarcus Cousins (quad), it was enough.
Nash (19 points, 12 assists) helped create a winning team atmosphere the way same way he did after Bryant bowed out in Indiana last game, probably the Lakers' best team victory of the season.
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