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Stan Van Gundy says Dwight Howard not as explosive

Dec 31, 2012, 12:24 PM EDT

Lakers Howard leaves the court after being ejected for a flagrant foul on Nuggets Faried during their NBA basketball game in Denver Reuters

A lot of people think Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy hate each other, but that’s not the case. They got over their little spat in Orlando pretty quickly and now text each other regularly.

Van Gundy probably knows Howard’s game as well as anyone and told the Los Angeles Times the back surgery has robbed Howard of some of his athleticism right now.

“I don’t think he looks quite as explosive or as quick as he has in the past,” said Van Gundy, who coached Howard in Orlando for five seasons before being fired in May. “Now, he’s still above almost everyone in the league at that size athletically, but he has not totally looked like himself to me.”

Even the 80 percent of Howard is good — he is averaging 17.6 points and 11.8 rebounds a game. But he’s not the same physically and is searching mentally. Van Gundy also talked about the adjustment to playing with Kobe Bryant and what Howard has told him in their texts.

“It’s a big adjustment for him going from being the guy to not only being the No. 2 guy but really a No. 2 guy that really doesn’t get the ball very much at all,” Van Gundy said. “It’s a different deal and an adjustment he has to make. Those kind of things take time….”

“The only thing he’s really gotten into was,” Van Gundy said Friday in a phone interview, “he wants their defense to be better.”

I’m not sure we needed Van Gundy to tell us all this.

Watch Howard play and you can tell he’s not the same explosive player. Watch him on offense — especially since Mike D’Antoni took over and Steve Nash returned — and you can see him searching for his place and his touches in the offense. Watch him on defense and you can tell he’s frustrated.

A lot of that needs to be frustration with himself. He is not making the defensive plays (although to be fair, when he does help nobody helps the helper and picks up his guy). Howard isn’t running the floor or playing like the pick-and-roll beast that he can be. Maybe he needed to not rush back for the start of the season and let his back heal more. Maybe a lot of things.

But Howard finding his old self is a large part of the Lakers finding themselves.

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