Dwight Howard doesn’t look like Superman.
Superman knew how to fly. Howard can barely jump. Superman moved at lightning speed. Howard lacks explosiveness. Superman never had health issues. Howard’s nursing an eight-month surgically repaired back that still seems to be ailing him.
The common buzz word surrounding the Lakers’ 103-99 loss Tuesday to the Philadelphia 76ers involved the team’s “lack of energy.” No one epitomized that problem more than Howard, who posted only seven points on 1 of 7. Yet, Howard insisted nothing’s ailing his back.
“Has he had any setbacks?
“No,” Howard said.
Are there games he’s played that are tougher than others?
Howard quickly shook his head no.
Moments later, Kobe Bryant revealed what Howard refused to acknowledge.
“It’s been frustrating for him because of the nature of the injury and trying to come back and meet the expectations we all have for him,” Bryant said. “It’s tough to deal with that when you’re not physically the same player that you were. It’s been frustrating for him. But to his credit, he’s battling through it and figuring out ways to be effective.”
Howard missed his first five shots. His first field goal happened when he threw down a two-handed dunk off Bryant’s missed 17-footer happened with 6:15 left in the third quarter. Howard compensated with 14 rebounds, five blocks and strong defensive effort. But his lack of mobility stripped away Howard’s dominance.
“I thought he got a little tired, probably,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Maybe frustrated. It wasn’t a great night offensively for him.”
The same thing happened only a few days ago.
Howard posted only 12 points and seven rebounds before drawing a flagrant foul type 2 against Denver forward Kenneth Faried, a play that drew an NBA-imposed $35,000 fine. The sequence also revealed Howard’s lack of composure and marked the lone exception where he tried hard on defense.
“He works hard and tries as hard as he can,” Lakers forward Pau Gasol said of Howard. “Physically, I think he’s in good shape. It’s just a matter of how we can keep him being a big factor for us in game even when offensively things don’t go his way. We need to keep him active and involved as possible.”
Howard quickly bounced back later in the Lakers’ 104-87 victory Friday over Portland where he poured on 21 points on 7 of 13 shooting and 14 rebounds. Howard cited the Rocky Mountain altitude and the second night of a back-to-back as factors. D’Antoni argued no one on the Lakers could cite such issues this time around
“We had two or three games off,” D’Antoni said. “So this shouldn’t be a game that we’re tired at all.”
But Howard looked tired. He looked slow. He looked frustrated. Howard just provided more evidence that he’s not Superman yet.
E-mail L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org