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Much of that confidence is based on Howard, who is still a bit peeved he didn’t win another Defensive Player of the Year award last spring despite his early end to the season for back surgery. Bynum thrived on defense at times, but the Lakers believe no center can match Howard’s combination of athleticism and intelligence.

“He can make plays defensively that no big man outside of Bill Russell can make,” Bryant said.

The Lakers‘ weaknesses might include their bench, which was the NBA’s least productive group last season. Antawn Jamison, the high-scoring forward who has mostly spent his 15-year career as the best player on bad teams, should inject more offense as a reserve, while Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon will provide a new look in the backcourt. Jordan Hill, Steve Blake and Devin Ebanks return from last year.

But it’s tough to worry about the Lakers while Howard, Nash, Bryant, Gasol and World Peace are running drills together in practice.

They’re still getting to know each other, but they all sense the potential to become something greater than the sum of their parts.

“You don’t get an opportunity like this too often in life,” Gasol said. “We’re all excited to go on this journey together.”