LOS ANGELES — “They just don’t like each other, simple as that.”
That was how Lakers coach Byron Scott described this fourth quarter dust up between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard on opening night Tuesday (a game that was an easy win for the Rockets). It came when Howard grabbed a rebound and Kobe, who had mistimed a jump to tip it in, stayed close to body and slow Howard’s outlet pass (the Rockets had crushed the Lakers all game in transition). Howard came through with some elbows to clear space and caught Kobe in the jaw.
The two chirped back and forth at each other, with Kobe saying “try me” several times then later calling Howard “soft.”
You could feel the animosity — and Lakers fans at Staples Center came alive. This was the one thing they had to cheer for in an otherwise dreary opening night.
After review the referees gave Kobe a personal foul, Howard a flagrant foul, and both men got a technical.
After the game both players avoided the discussion as much as possible.
“It’s the game,” Bryant said. “An elbow is a part of the game. Trash talk is part of the game. I don’t know when the NBA because so sensitive. It’s all part of it.”
Rockets coach Kevin McHale — a very physical player back in his day — simply said “that’s basketball.”
But I think Scott hit the nail on the head — these two didn’t even shake hands pregame. We know how they feel.