When Kobe Bryant said Dwight Howard needed to suck it up and play through pain, this was not what he had mind.
Kobe wanted a sense of urgency, he wanted leadership, he wanted a guy who would shows some fight to help push the Lakers toward the playoffs. He wanted passion.
Thursday night Howard showed none of that. He looked slowed by injuries and he looked rusty. Howard was unimpressive against an undersized Celtics front line the Lakers needed him to dominate — 9 points (4-of-8 shooting) 1-of-6 from the free throw line, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 turnovers, and he fouled out in the fourth quarter. Howard also is supposed to be anchoring the Lakers defense, but his rotations were slow, and he was terrible helping on screens and pick-and-rolls.
It wasn’t Howard’s fault the Lakers were blown out of the Boston Garden 116-95, that was a total team (lack of) effort. But if you are one of the team’s leaders you need to bring energy to try to turn the momentum in games like this. Howard was part of the scenery.
Mike D’Antoni was asked after the game if Howard needs to play better for the Lakers to have a shot at making the playoffs (answer via a tweet from Kevin Ding).
“He has to. We don’t have a whole lot of other solutions.”
That is where the Lakers are at — their season rests on Howard’s sore shoulders and aching back. Pau Gasol is out six to eight weeks (at least), holding down the paint falls to Howard now. It’s going to take more than a protective sleeve to get him right. He’s clearly still slowed by the injury, but he also isn’t showing a lot of fight.
Howard wanted out of Orlando because he wanted to be in a bigger market where he was the focus of an elite franchise. Be careful what you wish for. This is what it takes to lead an elite franchise.
Kobe tried to push Howard into that leadership role with his comments to Jackie MacMullan of ESPNBoston.com on Wednesday. But after Thursday night Kobe was backing off that — because he could. The need for urgency was obvious because Boston played with it. Kobe didn’t need to say it again, he didn’t need to say anything.
Kobe went the “things were blown out of proportion” line of defense, here is his quote via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
“I think the statements from yesterday were just really overblown, to be honest with you. I didn’t say anything that was offensive or try to take a run at him. It’s pretty shocking in terms of how everybody reacted to it. I wasn’t trying to do anything. It’s pretty simple. If he’s healthy, he’ll play. If he’s not, he won’t. I didn’t say anything that was groundbreaking. Do we need urgency? Yeah, we need urgency but if he’s hurt and it’s going to get worse, he can’t play. It was a pretty interesting day to see how everybody kind of jumped on those statements….
“If I had a message in mind, I’d make it pretty black and white. I don’t need to be surreptitious about it.”
I don’t know about you, but “We don’t have time for (Howard’s shoulder) to heal … We need some urgency” didn’t seem very surreptitious to me.
But Kobe doesn’t have to say anything anymore. It’s obvious.
It’s about Dwight Howard for the Lakers now. We’ll see if he responds differently in Charlotte on Friday. And in Miami on Sunday. Lose those two and the Lakers are back to six games below .500 and…
Well, we don’t need to say that, either, it’s obvious, too.