All the momentum and good vibe the Lakers gained during their three-game winning streak vanished in 48 minutes Thursday night in Boston. The Lakers-Celtics rivalry was just the backdrop of what has become a major sideshow in L.A. this season: the Dwight Howard dilemma.
Howard returned to the lineup against Boston after missing three games, all Laker victories. He played 28 minutes, had nine points, nine rebounds, and fouled out in the Lakers’ 116-95 loss to the hated Celtics. In short, Howard gave the Lakers next to nothing on the floor. They could have gotten the same production from rookie center Robert Sacre.
This season has been extremely painful for Howard, and we’re not just talking about his back surgery and the torn labrum he’s currently nursing. Howard just doesn’t look comfortable. He appears agitated and distant during interviews, and he constantly has to put up a phony smile because he wants to hide the fact that he’s just not having fun in L.A. But the most frustrating part for Howard appears to be his relationship with his teammates, especially with Kobe Bryant.
Bryant recently suggested the Lakers need a little more sense of urgency to climb back in the playoff hunt, a comment indirectly fired at Howard to pull himself together and help the Lakers win games. The stakes got even higher when Pau Gasol, one of the anchors in the Lakers’ championship teams in 2009 and 2010, is out indefinitely with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot. Without Gasol, the Lakers need Howard more than ever.
Howard wants to help, but he doesn’t want to push himself too far that he’ll do more damage to his already broken body. He’s thinking about his career, and he’s playing it safe. But Bryant is not going to allow Howard to play it safe. Kobe’s mentality is “let’s win now and not wait until next year.” Bryant always operates under the creed that anything less than a championship is a lost season.
Howard doesn’t operate like that.
He’s not a win-at-all-cost type player. He likes to have fun first, and then winning comes secondary. This is not sitting well with the Lakers, especially driven guys like Kobe and head coach Mike D’Antoni. They know the clock is ticking on this group and not winning the NBA title in 2013 is not an option.
Howard claims he’s hurting, but the Lakers say he’s cleared to play and it’s just about pain threshold. D’Antoni said Howard has been cleared to play for awhile now, but the All-Star center wants to make sure he’s 100% healed. Kobe has played through injuries numerous times, and the Lakers want Howard to do the same.
How bad is he hurt? That’s a question only Dwight Howard can answer.