On a night that his doctor nearly showed up late for his checkup, Dwight Howard looked perfect on his timing.
He may have nursed a separated labrum from his right shoulder that kept him out for the past week, but it appeared Howard also returned with a new Superman cape. Howard may need to ice his shoulder after every game until who knows when, but it’s a small price to pay for the abuse his body can inflict on his opponents. The Lakers’ 113-93 victory Sunday over the Cleveland Cavaliers may have meant nothing beyond snapping a six-game losing streak. But it meant everything in Howard providing a solid blueprint in the form of 22 points, 14 rebounds and a whole lot of defense.
“That is my role on both ends to help other guys get open on the defensive end and be strong communicating to where guys need to be,” Howard said. “I understand they need me on the floor and they need me focused every night for us to win.”
Howard’s always been focused this season. But sometimes it’s been on other things. Howard focused on teammates failing to help on defense. He focused on his limitations on his explosiveness and endurance stemmed from nine-month old back surgery. Howard focused on stressing the need to stay positive even if his on-court frustration often suggested otherwise. In the past three games, Howard’s double double efforts looked more reminiscent of the dominant Howard.
Against Cleveland, the Lakers held the Cavaliers to 41.1 percent shooting partly to Howard’s paint presence and ability to keep the unit more organized. It also helped the Cavaliers missed center Anderson Varejao, who underwent surgery to repair a torn leg muscle.
“He was a great presence for us, great energy and he’s the anchor of the team,” Lakers guard Steve Nash said. “When he plays with energy and plays hard defensively, we’re a different team. The only way for us is to realize those aspirations is if he has that presence defensively.”
Howard lived up to that job description by ensuring a healthier shoulder.
He missed the previous five games after an MRI last week determined he had a separate labrum in his right shoulder. Fearful that further contact could lead to a severe tear and require surgery, Howard took the time off to strengthen it.
“The piece is still torn from the bone,” Howard said. “But the biggest thing is I don’t want to aggravate it every night. That’s why they asked me to sit down for a couple of games to regain some strength and then come back when I don’t have any pain.”
Howard maintained he didn’t have any pain against the Cavaliers, describing the shoulder as “pretty good.” Reaching that point required the same amount of discipline he showed on defense.
The conditioning drills he performed this past week entailed explosive movements as strength & conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco acted as a barrier to test Howard’s quickness. Howard routinely has iced the shoulder and received electronic stimulation. Even though the Lakers (16-21) played the Cavaliers (9-30), Howard didn’t want to take his time rehabbing because the Lakers had lost to them last month.
“I was tired,” Howard said. “You miss a couple of games, some things are off. But I just tried to play through it and bring some energy and some intensity.”
As a result, the Lakers managed to take one small albeit critical step in sparking a turnaround.
“Everyone has to play with maximum effort,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I wouldn’t single one guy out. but he collectively have to be in a desperation situation.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org